By Kris Leonhardt
UW-Green Bay began the inaugural session of its “History of the Green Bay Packers Certificate” program on Sept. 6. The virtual, eight-week, two-hour class allows participants to “uncover the team’s storied history and get an inside look at the Packers Hall of Fame.” Over eight weeks, we are providing a glimpse of the class experience through Titletown 101.
Green Bay Packer historians credit Jack Vanisi with laying the foundation that led to the success of the 1960s.
While serving as chief scout in the 1950s, he acquired many of the players that led to that success.
Bart Starr was drafted in the 17th round of the 1956 draft, while Paul Hornung was selected in the 1957 draft.
The search to replace Coach Ray McLean, who resigned at the end of the 1958 season, took six weeks.
“The Packers first tried to hire Forest Evanshevski, Iowa’s high-profile head coach,” Packers Hall of Fame Curator Brent Hensel said.
“He had just won the Big 10 Championship and won the Rose Bowl, so he was the first choice to replace (McLean)…
“By Jan. 15, they had narrowed it down to three choices. This included the Iowa coach along with two assistants (Jerry Burns and Bob Flora.)
“They hoped to strike a deal with Forest. They offered him significant money and he eventually just turned them down and stayed at Iowa.
“Then, of course, everything changes when Lombardi arrives Jan. 28, 1959.”
Today, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who is not familiar with the name Vince Lombardi.
“You could probably talk to an eight-year-old, in the parking lot, at a school, and they would have heard of Vince Lombardi. But, at this time, he had no head coaching experience other than at Saint Cecilia High School in New Jersey,” Hensel said.
“The Packers first approached Lombardi at the owners’ or the annual NFL meeting at the Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia. This took place Jan. 21-23 in 1959, so it was about a week later before they actually hire.
“At some point, they do offer him a five-year contract with the salary of $36,000 with incentives.
“He was named head coach and general manager at the Hotel Northland.”
Lombardi was quoted as saying “I’ve never been associated with a loser and I don’t expect to be now” at the press conference to introduce him.
“Basically, Lombardi steps in, and he changes the culture completely,” Hensel stated.
Lombardi and his assistants spent many hours watching film of the 1958 games and held individual and small group meetings with the players.
He also created change in other ways, carving out an office at the Washington Street Packers building and changing the design of the uniforms.
One of the biggest moves by Lombardi to signal a change in leadership was the trading of Billy Howton.
Howton went to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for defensive end Bill Quinlan and halfback Lew Carpenter.
At his first meeting with Packer players, Lombardi stated, “Gentleman we’re going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we won’t catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence.”
Read more in next week’s edition.
For more on the program, visit www.uwgb.edu/certificate-programs/history-of-the-green-bay-packers.