Q&A: Packers’ president and CEO Mark Murphy talks career, years as NU athletic director


Graphic courtesy of Jacob Fulton

Mark Murphy. Before becoming President and CEO of the Green Bay Packers, Murphy was the athletic director at Northwestern.

Sophia Scanlan, Senior Staffer

For four and a half years, Mark Murphy was at the helm of Northwestern sports. As athletic director from 2003 to 2007, Murphy saw the Wildcats achieve success across the board, with lacrosse winning three consecutive NCAA championships, softball reaching the College World Series twice, and football playing in two bowl games. Murphy also promoted Pat Fitzgerald to head coach in 2006. 

But before he became a Wildcat, Murphy was an athlete. A baseball, basketball and football player at Colgate, Murphy graduated with a degree in economics in 1977 and then spent eight years as a safety with the franchise now called the Washington Football Team. After getting an M.B.A. and law degree from American and Georgetown, respectively, Murphy returned to Colgate to lead the athletic department from 1992 to 2003. 

Now, Murphy heads the Green Bay Packers as their president and CEO, a position he stepped into in January of 2008 after leaving NU. A few days after the Packers lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship, The Daily spoke with Murphy about his years in Evanston and his career in professional football.

This interview has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.

The Daily: How did you first get into football?

Murphy: My first football experience was in sixth grade, and I lived in Houston, Texas. I played in a football league, and actually I played center because I was one of the few people that could snap the ball between my legs. So, that was my start. I enjoyed it. My father had played football in college, so I had a little bit of football background. 

The Daily: After playing football in college and professionally, how did you know you wanted to transition to the administrative side of sports? 

Murphy: While I was playing, I was actively involved in the NFL Players Association. My involvement in the Players Association and the bargaining process really piqued my interest in law school. Once my career ended, I took a job with the NFL Players Association and then went to law school at night. And then once I got my law degree, I took a position with the U.S. Department of Justice. It was a great experience. I was in court all the time and really enjoyed it, but I did miss my involvement in athletics. 

The Daily: What was it about Northwestern that drew you here after working at Colgate?

Murphy: I enjoyed my time at Colgate, but it had been 12 years. It felt like there wasn’t much more that I could accomplish there. For me, an opportunity to grow in my career as an athletic director, the chance to go to Northwestern — it was a great opportunity. It was still Division I, but a higher level. The Big Ten athletic program was exciting, and I loved my time at Northwestern. 

The Daily: What were some fond memories from your years at Northwestern?

Murphy: The first national championship for the women’s lacrosse team — being a part of that was really exciting. I have very fond memories of beating Ohio State for the first time in quite a while at home in football. I remember seeing the students take over and come onto the field after the game. 

The Daily: How would you compare working in college football to professional football?

Murphy: Well, obviously you’re dealing with just completely different athletes. But in a lot of ways, the focus is the same. I do miss working with the other teams and the seasons. It’s nice as athletic director getting to know and work with coaches and student-athletes from all different teams. It was just a unique opportunity to become the president of the Packers. It’s such a unique organization with great history and tradition. I was not looking to leave Northwestern — I really enjoyed it there. 

The Daily: What lessons from your time as athletic director have you carried into your role with the Packers?

Murphy: Management and leadership. And obviously as an athletic director, one of the most important things you do is hire and work with coaches. Not too long ago, we made a coaching change, so I think my experience — having hired a number of different coaches in different sports, including football coaches, and handled searches — was really invaluable to me. 

The Daily: A few years back the Packers were looking to hire Pat Fitzgerald. He’s now locked in at NU for 10 years, but what is it about Fitzgerald that attracts so many NFL teams?

Murphy: He’s a great coach, and to have the kind of success that he’s having at Northwestern gets people’s attention. And then you look at the type of person he is, his leadership ability — he’s exceptional. I’m really proud of him. It’s been really, really gratifying to see how he’s grown over the years. 

The Daily: What are your goals for the Packers next year?

Murphy: We obviously had a good season, but it didn’t end the way we wanted. We’ve established a program here where we can win on a consistent basis. We’ve got some great players. Our general managers over the last decade have done an excellent job identifying talented players. So as disappointing as it was, I still feel like we’ve got a legitimate chance to compete for Super Bowls for the foreseeable future.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @sophia_scanlan

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