Remembering Ron Wolf's Hall of Fame Career

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IAugust 4, 2015

USA Today

Ron Wolf—the former personnel executive who helped build the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers into Super Bowl champions—will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, Ohio.

Wolf's enshrinement—as part of the eight-man induction class of 2015—will cap a football career that began in 1963. During a highly regarded career in personnel, Wolf played an integral part in constructing a dominant run with the Raiders before reviving the Packers' storied franchise alongside handpicked quarterback Brett Favre and head coach Mike Holmgren. 

His legacy continues to live on in the NFL today, with several of his former scouts and executives now holding top personnel jobs around the league. 

Wolf will be inducted through the "contributor" category, a new designation created by the selection committee in 2015 to honor non-players and coaches. He and former executive Bill Polian will become the inaugural inductees in the category. 

Ron's son, Eliot, who currently works within the Packers front office, will serve as his presenter at the ceremony. 

Below, we'll look back at Wolf's Hall of Fame career in professional football.  

Learning the Ropes in Oakland

Al Davis gave Wolf his first opportunity in 1963.
Al Davis gave Wolf his first opportunity in 1963.Rogers Photo Archive/Getty Images

One unexpected phone call from a relative stranger began a fairy tale career in professional football. 

According to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, final exams in 1963 had just finished at the University of Oklahoma when the phone rang. Wolf answered. On the other line, Raiders head coach and general manager Al Davis. He wanted to offer the young, inexperienced Wolf a scouting job in Oakland. 

The background on why Wolf received the call, per Dougherty:

The editor of “Pro Football Illustrated” (now “Pro Football Weekly”) happened to be in Northern California attending a wedding when Davis became the Raiders’ coach and GM, so he went to Oakland to interview Davis about the new jobs. During their conversation, Davis said he needed an assistant scout who was good at remembering names, and the editor recommended Wolf, who had worked at “Pro Football Illustrated” the year before. Wolf jumped at the chance to break into pro football but had never scouted, so he learned by spending hours watching game film with Davis and his four-man coaching staff.

Wolf went on to spend 23 years with Davis and the Raiders during two separate stints. The experience would help shape the rest of Wolf's personnel career. 

"He brought me out there on a trial basis, trained me, started me at the bottom and we moved all the way through," Wolf said, via Eddie Paskal of the Raiders' official site. "It was a tremendous education for someone of my ilk, to have a man with this ability to evaluate the way Al would early on. I could not have been in a better situation than that at the outset.”

Ron Wolf with the Raiders (1963-74, 1979-89)
- 10 division titles- 17 winning seasons
- 3 Super Bowl appearances- 8 AFL/AFC title game appearances
- 2 Super Bowl wins (XV, XVIII)- Helped draft 9 Hall of Fame players
Source: Pro Football Hall of Fame

During his time with the Raiders, Wolf assisted Davis in drafting Hall of Famers such as Mel Renfro, Fred Biletnikoff, Gene Upshaw, Art Shell, Ray Guy, Dave Casper, Howie Long, Marcus Allen and Tim Brown (also a 2015 inductee). Other draft picks included Jack Tatum, Ken Stabler and Matt Millen. The Raiders parlayed those selections into unquestioned success on the field, finishing with winning records in 17 of the 23 seasons with Wolf in the front office—while also capturing nine division titles and two Super Bowls. 

The success of his opening run in Oakland—spanning from 1963 to '75—helped create his first opportunity to be a general manager, with Wolf taking over for the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs would start their existence with 26 straight losses, but the club advanced to the conference title game in its fourth season—in part due to Wolf's early contributions. 

Wolf left Tampa Bay in 1978 and returned to Oakland, where he would stay on with Davis until 1990.

The Miss That Made Everything

GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 19:  Quaterback Brett Favre #4 of the Green Bay Packers scrambles with the ball during the preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons on August 19, 2006 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers won 38-10. (Photo by Jona
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Wolf's 17-month stay with the Jets in the early '90s saw him take part in his most important miss as a personnel man. 

The 1991 draft featured a gunslinging quarterback from Southern Miss. His name was Brett Favre, and Wolf—then New York's director of player personnel under general manager Dick Steinberg—loved him as a prospect. 

"Dick and I were at the East-West game, and Brett was outstanding," Wolf said, via Rich Cimini of ESPN.com. "I remember, we both said, 'This is the best player in the draft.'"

But Wolf's quest to get Favre required a few plot twists. 

The Jets—who placed Favre as the No. 1 player on their board—were actually without a first-round pick thanks to using a supplemental draft choice on receiver Rob Moore the year prior. Unable to take Favre in the first round, the Jets had to sit and wait while holding the No. 34 overall pick. 

When Favre fell, New York attempted to move up and get him. 

"Dick thought he had a deal with Arizona," Wolf told Cimini. 

Instead, the Cardinals—who held the No. 32 pick—nixed the trade and took defensive end Mike Jones. A selection later, the Atlanta Falcons drafted Favre, leaving the Jets to use pick No. 34 on Louisville quarterback Browning Nagle—one of the worst consolation prizes in draft history.

Had Favre become a Jet during that moment, it's very possible Wolf would have never gotten his man in Green Bay a year later. History obviously unfolded differently. 

The Packers, a club rich in history but lacking in recent achievement, hired Wolf in 1991. After tabbing Holmgren—a coordinator in San Francisco who worked under Bill Walsh and George Seifert—to be his head coach, Wolf sent a first-round pick to the Falcons in exchange for Favre. The two decisions would reshape the franchise, leading to a revival 30 years in the making. 

"The turnaround Ron Wolf directed probably was as significant as any in the history of the National Football League," former Packers president Bob Harlan told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Ron changed the culture."

Building a Champion

DOUG MILLS/Associated Press

While Holmgren and Favre brought the Packers back from the dead, Wolf's other personnel moves transformed Green Bay from a team on the rise into a legitimate title contender. 

His paramount addition was luring Reggie White—the best defensive player in football and arguably the biggest free agent of all time—to a tiny little town in northeast Wisconsin on April 6, 1993.  

“We were fighting with the perception Green Bay was a terrible place to play," Wolf told Vic Ketchman of the team's official site. "It was a stigma we were doing our best to erase. To have an opportunity to get a player the caliber of Reggie White … I think the money might’ve won that." 

White's contract was worth $17 million over four years, per McGinn. The deal was then the third-highest in league history. 

Three years later, the Packers were hoisting a Lombardi Trophy as winners of Super Bowl XXXI. It was the franchise's first title since 1967. 

Wolf was the architect of it all, having assembled a star coaching staff and adding Favre, White, Robert Brooks, Edgar Bennett, Sean Jones, Santana Dotson and a host of others who helped the Packers taste championship glory in January 1997. 

Over Wolf's nine years in Green Bay, the Packers won almost 64 percent of their games, made six trips to the playoffs and failed to record a losing season. Green Bay advanced to three NFC title games and played in two Super Bowls after making the postseason just twice from 1968 to 1991. 

Wolf retired in 2001, but the foundation had been set. The Packers have remained one of the NFL's model organizations. 

"We took this franchise and turned the darn thing around," Wolf told McGinn. "That's something no one can ever take away from me. Never."

Lasting Legacy

While retired, few men can be considered as influential on the personnel decisions made in the NFL today as Wolf, whose scouting tree extends across the league.

In fact, five members of Wolf's staff in Green Bay have gone on to be general managers in the NFL. The list includes Ted Thompson (Packers), John Schneider (Seahawks), John Dorsey (Chiefs), Reggie McKenzie (Raiders) and Scot McCloughan (49ers, Redskins). Wolf's son, Eliot, looks well on his way to eventually becoming a general manager, while Packers director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst and senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith are both highly regarded. 

“A lot of people who’ve grown up under Ron have done extremely well and are playing prominent roles in the NFL," Harlan told Mike Vandermause of the Press Gazette. 

Wolf (left), with Thompson (right) and son Eliot (middle)
Wolf (left), with Thompson (right) and son Eliot (middle)Mike Roemer/Associated Press

Many of them can trace their professional success to the structure Wolf put in place while in Green Bay.

“They all go back to what they learned under Ron,” Harlan said. “Ted [Thompson] admits to this day that he still operates the way (Ron taught him). It may not be as daring as Ron, but a lot of things he does, it’s very comparable. When I watch them in the draft room, the way they operate, they’re very similar.”

Both Thompson and Schneider have since built championship rosters. 

The NFL has attempted to use some of the Wolf magic since his retirement in 2001. Twice, teams have employed Wolf as a consultant in job searches (the Chargers in 2012 and Jets in 2014). It's certainly possible more calls will come down the road. 

For now, Wolf can savor his moment. 

“It’s been an amazing road,” Wolf said, via Mike Spofford of the Packers' official site. “I look at my selection as more or less an organizational thing. It’s not only about Ron Wolf. It’s about the people who worked with me. I’m talking about the scouts, coaches, trainers, equipment people, doctors, front-office staff, all those people."

Ron Wolf: A Hall of Fame Career Remembered
- 5 Super Bowl appearances- 20 playoff appearances
- 3 Super Bowl wins- 11 conference title-game appearances
- Traded for Brett Favre- Signed Reggie White
Source: Pro Football Hall of Fame

On Saturday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will induct one of the finest evaluators of football talent the league has ever employed. Wolf—the architect of Super Bowl winners and the man who traded for Brett Favre and signed Reggie White—has earned his football immortality. 

Zach Kruse covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. 

Follow @zachkruse2


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