Alonzo Highsmith climbed the ranks of the Green Bay Packers personnel department in his 19 years with the team, but the senior personnel executive won’t be in the mix for the team’s vacant general manager job.
He told ESPN.com on Tuesday night that he will join the Cleveland Browns as vice president of football operations. The move reunites Highsmith with new Browns GM John Dorsey, the former Packers director of college scouting.
The 52-year-old Highsmith said he did not think he would be considered as a replacement for Packers GM Ted Thompson, who will not return in that role next season.
“We discussed so many ideas and all kinds of stuff,” Highsmith said in a phone interview from Cleveland. “I was exposed to so much stuff today. That’s why I thought it was as great opportunity. It feels good to go somewhere that you feel like you’re trusted.”
Highsmith on Monday was granted permission by the Packers to interview with the Browns and flew to Cleveland on Tuesday. He spent the day watching film with Dorsey and meeting with the Browns’ staff, including owner Jimmy Haslam.
“This is an opportunity to build something from the ground up, having an input, working with John Dorsey, who I respect a great deal,” Highsmith said. “To watch his work ethic today — we watched film all day. He made me feel rejuvenated. It was a lot of fun today.
“I understand they’ve had their difficulties in the past, but I kind of feel like when I went to the University of Miami. Every recruiter from Alabama to Notre Dame to Michigan told me if you go to Miami, you’ll never go to a bowl game. We became a dominant program. It kind of feels like that all over again, and that’s my mindset. I’ve never lost, and I don’t plan on losing now.”
The third overall pick in the 1987 NFL draft as a running back from Miami, Highsmith worked his way up the ranks of the Packers’ personnel department. Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf hired him as a college scout in 1999, and he was promoted by Thompson to his current position in 2012. Along with Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst, Highsmith was one of Thompson’s top advisors.
Highsmith is best known for convincing the Packers to draft Donald Driver in the seventh round out of Alcorn State in 1999 and discovering undrafted free agent Sam Shields in 2010. Driver became the Packers’ all-time leading receiver, and Shields went on to make the Pro Bowl in 2014.
“It was a great 19 years,” Highsmith said. “I hope I did my part for the Packers to make them better. Now I’m gone and you know what, I won’t be the last guy.”
In fact, it’s possible Wolf or Gutekunst — or both — could leave Green Bay if they don’t end up as Thompson’s replacement. Packers president Mark Murphy said Tuesday that he understood the risk that he could lose some of the team’s top scouts if they don’t get the general manager job.
“We’ve got some good people here and you don’t want to lose ’em,” Murphy said. “But I also think the most important thing is getting the right person.”