The NFL Draft is littered with stories like these. The scouting department wants one guy, the coach or general manager wants another and the team ultimately ends up passing on a Hall of Fame talent.
It happened with the Green Bay Packers and Joe Montana, according to scout Chris Landry, who has compiled a list of such horror stories from throughout the draft’s history.
The year was 1979.
The Green Bay scouting department wanted to take Joe Montana in the third round. General manager/head coach Bart Starr opted for a more immediate need, Maryland defensive tackle Charles Johnson.
Montana, the greatest quarterback I’ve ever personally witnessed, is in the Hall of Fame. Johnson played just three seasons with the Packers.
Now, before you get delusions of grandeur about Montana leading those Starr-coached teams to glory, consider this.
The Packers had a perfectly fine quarterback at the time in Lynn Dickey. The guy led the league in yardage (4,458) and touchdowns (32) in 1983. Sure, he threw his share of picks, but was capable enough of leading the offense.
The Packers’ problems on those teams always stemmed from one place — defense.
They couldn’t play any. Outside of a John Anderson here and an Ezra Johnson there, the Packers had no talent on defense and usually found themselves in a track meet because of it.
First to 55 wins!
Not even Joe Montana was going to make up for the ineptness of those late-70s, early-80s Packers defenses.
Of course, you could argue that passing on Montana changed the trajectory of the Packers. That having Montana would have caused them to draft differently. Landry suggests that contributed directly to another knee-jerk move a couple years later.
Starr, missing out on Montana two years earlier was determined to draft a quarterback this go round and selected Cal-Berkeley QB Rich Campbell at No. 6, passing on the guy who the Packers wanted to draft — USC DB Ronnie Lott, who was selected by the 49ers two picks later.
Campbell stuck with the Packers for four seasons, but he never started a game.
Although it was commonplace at the time, this is why most coaches don’t also get to be general managers anymore.
Charles Freaking Johnson
Don’t know how much it would have changed the Packers, never going far with that d. But that would have been a seismic change for the Niners. No Montana, no Lott. The draft is a funny game, sometimes.
Bob Harlan tells stories about how Red Cochran became furious with Starr for not drafting Joe Montana. Harlan also tells the story of how, when Starr drafted Campbell, a scout leaned over to him and said “Campbell is going to be a bust, Ronnie Lott was the right pick.”
Somewhere along the way Harlan decided not to let coaches make personnel decisions.
I’ll say it. Starr had no business coaching the Packers. But you can’t blame Starr, blame the incompetent non football people that hired him.
Next up: the Barry Sanders instead of Tony Mandarich story.
I blame Ted Thompson.
Or Deion Sanders instead of Mandarich……
Ironically the San Francisco 49ers drafted a Charles Johnson in the 4th round that year