GREEN BAY, Wis. — Former Packers general manager Ted Thompson — who drafted Aaron Rodgers, traded away Brett Favre and built the team that won Super Bowl XLV — died Wednesday, according to the team. He was 68.
Thompson died at his home in Texas, the team said in a release.
“This is a very competitive business and everybody wants to win badly but his ethics were at the top of the charts,” current Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst told reporters Thursday. “He believed in the rules and he was as competitive as all of us were, but his honor and his ethics, that always was something that, upon the staff, there was no compromise there.
“He was probably more comfortable out there in the field scouting at an all-star game or at a school call, and understood the importance of that. That’s just kind of how he carried himself. … He wasn’t one that had a very big circle that he let people into and, over time, I was lucky enough to be one of those guys. While he came across to a lot of others as pretty stoic, he was a pretty funny guy. He had a dry sense of humor and was really fun to be around. I know in our draft room, particularly, the stories are endless. He’s just one of those guys that selfishly, I wish he was still around because what we’re doing right now with this football team, I think he’d really enjoy.”
Rodgers also expressed his condolences.
“I’m really thankful for Ted. The fact that I was his first draft pick will always link us together,” Rodgers said. “I always appreciated his steady hand and the conversations that we would have. He always made things pretty clear about what he expected from the team and what he expected from me.
“… He would always start the season and address the team for a few minutes and he would always finish with, ‘Godspeed.’ As he passes on, I want to thank him for what he meant to myself, the team and the organization, and wish him Godspeed.”
— Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12) January 21, 2021
Along with 10 seasons as a player in the NFL with the Houston Oilers (1975 to 1984), Thompson served as Packers general manager from 2005 to 2017. The Packers moved him into a consultant role for the 2018 season in part because of his declining health.
In May 2019, after he was inducted into the Packers’ hall of fame, Thompson announced that he was suffering from an autonomic disorder, a condition that causes weakness and cognitive issues. Packers president Mark Murphy did not cite Thompson’s health as a reason for the decision to remove him as general manager immediately after the 2017 season.
Thompson said at the time of his announcement that his doctors did not believe his condition “fit the profile of someone suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy.”
“Our condolences go out to his family,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Thursday. “Certainly he’s a guy that’s held in the highest regard in this building and I think just around the league. He’s had a tremendous impact, not only on people in this building and obviously [Gutekunst] and a lot of our personnel people, but people in other departments as well. His impact is still felt to this day when you look at our roster, but I think he’s had a tremendous impact amongst many people across the league when you look at the other GMs that have learned under him.
“So certainly we’re sitting here with heavy hearts today. I’ve only had a few opportunities to meet him over the last couple of years, but I just know how important he was to many people in this building.”
Thompson’s first draft pick as Packers general manager was Rodgers, who fell to Green Bay at No. 24 overall.
Before the 2020 draft, Gutekunst, who served as a scout under Thompson, called that decision courageous given that the Packers had Favre still playing at a high level.
“To have the courage at that time to do that, and what that one decision did for the organization for how many years later, that stuck with me,” Gutekunst said. “It could have been real easy to do something different. He thought that was the right thing to do, and he did it. That’s always stuck with me.”
Weeks later, Gutekunst would select quarterback Jordan Love in the first round.
Thompson oversaw the transition from Rodgers to Favre, trading Favre to the New York Jets in August 2008. Although Thompson drew the ire of some fans for a draft-and-develop plan — largely ignoring big-money free agents — he and coach Mike McCarthy, whom Thompson hired in 2006, put together a team that reached four NFC title games (2007, 2010, 2014, 2016) and made eight straight playoff appearances (2009 to 2016).
“Obviously, he was willing to make difficult decisions,” Murphy said. “He knew that was part of his job. I always remember whenever a player would have a bad play or something would go wrong, everybody wants to scream and yell. Ted, he’d always have this calmness to him. He’d say, ‘Listen, you gotta be patient. He’s a good player.’ … He was willing to give players time, and boy it sure paid off over the years. A lot of it was just his personality. He was always looking for the good in people. Yeah, I think we all just learned so much being around him, just the way he handled himself, particularly the humility.”
Murphy said the Packers will add Thompson’s name on the Lambeau Field façade next season.
“You will hear from a lot of people who will tell you great things about Ted Thompson and what he meant to them and every word will be true,” said McCarthy, who currently is the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. “But when I think about Ted, who he was as a man, will always carry more weight than what he did professionally. There has never been a finer human being to walk the playing fields or have a presence in the scouting rooms.
“Ted gave me an opportunity of a lifetime. As a young first-time head coach, who thought he had all the answers, I couldn’t have been matched with a more perfect leader. He taught me patience. I will forever remember all of the times he would simply smile at me and say, ‘slow down young man.’ He always protected and reinforced the importance of the tradition and history of the Green Bay Packers. It wasn’t enough just to win — it was equally important to win the right way. He exuded those qualities in everything he approached in football and in life.”
One of Thompson’s first assignments as a Packers scout in 1992 was to look at film on Favre and give an evaluation to then-GM Ron Wolf, who was contemplating trading for the quarterback.
“[Wolf] left me in a dark room, and I watched some of it, and he comes back in and he goes, ‘Well, what do you think?'” Thompson told ESPN in 2016. “And I said, “What do you think?’ And he goes, ‘I like him. I think I’m going to trade a No. 1 for him.’ I said, ‘I think you ought to do that.’
“He didn’t need any help, but I’ve said this before: Brett, that limited time he got to play in Atlanta, it wasn’t all pretty. But it was pretty when he got to the Green Bay Packers.”
Thompson worked for the Packers as a scout until 1999, when he joined Mike Holmgren with the Seattle Seahawks. In 2005, then-Packers president Bob Harlan lured him back to Green Bay by making him a general manager for the first time.
“I watched him come in and join us when he was very green, working for Ron Wolf, who’s a demanding boss, and he was so good that Ron promoted him twice,” Harlan said at Thompson’s induction into the Packers’ hall of fame. “The first man that Mike Holmgren wanted to take to Seattle with him was Ted Thompson. Ted went to Seattle, built a Super Bowl team, and I just thought when it was time for us to get somebody, he was the one I wanted.”
The soft-spoken Thompson often shied away from the spotlight but occasionally let his wry sense of humor shine through. He was self-deprecating about his playing career, which consisted largely of special teams, and was widely respected by his players.
“He’s not a man of many words, but he always has a positive attitude,” former Packers guard T.J. Lang told ESPN in 2017. “He’s always got a smile on his face. You can definitely tell that any time the guy at the top, the leader of your team, feels that way about your team, it definitely rubs off on the guys.”
Among the Thompson draft picks still on the roster are Rodgers, kicker Mason Crosby, offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, center Corey Linsley, wide receiver Davante Adams, running back Aaron Jones and defensive tackle Kenny Clark.