As a general manager in the NFL, getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame might be even more of an elite honor than for either a player or coach.
On Saturday, Ron Wolf will become just the 21st person under the Hall’s “contributor” category to earn enshrinement. By comparison, 22 coaches have been inducted and 264 players (both modern and pre-modern). The 2015 class includes six players and two contributors.
Wolf’s induction never would have happened without the Green Bay Packers.
When Wolf was hired as general manager by Bob Harlan in 1991 to make all major football decisions for the Packers, he was already a respected personnel man around the NFL. But he had yet to have success on his own. When he turned around a suffering franchise, the smallest and most storied in the league, Wolf became a deity.
Brett Favre, on July 18, the day he was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame and had his number retired by the team, had this to say about Wolf in front of thousands at the Lambeau Field Atrium:
“He will never, ever point the finger at himself and take any of the credit. That’s the type of man Ron is. But the reason this building looks the way it does, the reason we are in here in this awesome setting, the reason that the Packers have been to the playoffs (17 of the last 22 years) — that reason is because of Ron Wolf. I can assure you.”
Favre was, of course, one of two crown jewel personnel decisions Wolf made in Green Bay that defined his legacy. Wolf made the bold move in 1992 trading a first-round pick to get Favre, then a third-string quarterback coming off his rookie season with the Atlanta Falcons. And a year later, Wolf, with the help of second-year head coach Mike Holmgren, shocked the NFL by getting prize free agent Reggie White to sign with the Packers.
By Wolf’s fifth season, the Packers won their first Super Bowl in 29 years restoring Titletown to its former glory.
After going through a stretch of 19 non-winning seasons in 24 years following Vince Lombardi, the Packers posted winning seasons in eight of the next nine years (1992-2000) with Wolf navigating the ship. Wolf hit the ground running when he was hired in the fall of 1991, and by that time, had at least been seasoned to be successful.
Wolf made a name for himself with the Raiders, beginning as a scout in 1963. There he learned everything he could from Al Davis, who Wolf once said “knows every aspect of the game of professional football.” But he got his first shot at the big time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1975, when he was named vice president of operations. The Tampa job was a tough gig considering the Buccaneers were an expansion franchise. They went just 2-26 in their first two years. Wolf left that post in 1978 — the Buccaneers actually advanced to the conference title game in 1979 with many of his players — but admitted recently that he “laid a huge egg” in Tampa. He returned to the Raiders — as director of player personnel — for another successful run and had a brief stint with the New York Jets in a similar role before coming to Green Bay.
Harlan’s intuition in Wolf produced one of the most successful front office personnel figures for the Packers since Lombardi. For Wolf, it was a second chance to have complete control of his own team. The union proved beneficial for both parties. The Packers became a proud franchise again, one of best-run in the league, and Wolf introduced himself to a wider audience.
Although several of the coaches and owners/administrators in the Pro Football Hall of Fame had a say in personnel matters, Wolf, Jim Finks, Bill Polian (also class of 2015) and Tex Schramm are the four inductees probably best-known as personnel men first — an elite group indeed.
The Packers would not be where they are today without Wolf. Then again, Wolf would not be going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame without the Packers.
AN ELITE LIST
List of Pro Football Hall of Fame contributors other than Ron Wolf (according to Pro Football Hall of Fame website)
-Bert Bell, 1933-1959 — Commissioner — NFL, 1946-1959; Team Owner — Philadelphia Eagles, 1933-1940; Pittsburgh Steelers, 1941-1946
-Charles W. Bidwill Sr., 1933-1947 — Team Owner — Chicago Cardinals, 1933-1947
-Joe Carr, 1921-1939 — President — NFL, 1921-1939
-Al Davis, 1963-2011 — Team Owner — Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, 1966-present; Head Coach — Oakland Raiders, 1963-1965; Commissioner — American Football League, 1966
-Jim Finks, 1964-1982 and 1986-1992 — Team Administrator — Minnesota Vikings, 1964-1973, Chicago Bears, 1974-1982, New Orleans Saints, 1986-1992
-George Halas, 1920-1983 — Founder/Team Owner — Decatur Staleys/Chicago Staleys/Chicago Bears, 1920-1983; Head Coach — Decatur Staleys/Chicago Staleys/Chicago Bears, 1920-1929, 1933-1942, 1946-1955, 1958-1967; Co-Founder — NFL, 1920
-Lamar Hunt, 1959-2006 — Co-Founder — American Football League, 1959; Team Owner — Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs, 1959-present
-Earl (Curly) Lambeau, 1919-1953 — Team Founder/Coach/General Manager — Green Bay Packers, 1919-1949; Head Coach — Chicago Cardinals, 1950-1951, Washington Redskins, 1952-1953
-Tim Mara, 1925-1959 — Founder/Team Owner — New York Giants, 1925-1959
-Wellington Mara, 1937-2005 — Team Administrator/Team Owner — New York Giants, 1937-2005
-George Preston Marshall, 1932-1969 — Founder/Team Owner — Boston Braves/Boston Redskins/Washington Redskins, 1932-1969
-Bill Polian, Scout — Kansas City Chiefs, 1978-1982, General Manager — Buffalo Bills, 1984-1992, NFL — VP of Football Development, 1993-94, General Manager — Carolina Panthers, 1995-97, President/GM –Indianapolis Colts, 1998-2011
-Hugh (Shorty) Ray, 1938-1952 — Technical Advisor on Rules, Supervisor of Officials — NFL, 1938-1952
-Dan Reeves, 1941-1971 — Team Owner — Cleveland/Los Angeles Rams, 1941-1971
-Art Rooney, 1933-1988 — Founder/Team Owner — Pittsburgh Pirates/Steelers, 1933-1988
-Dan Rooney, 1955-present — Team Administrator/Team Owner — Pittsburgh Steelers, 1955-present
-Pete Rozelle, 1960-1989 — Commissioner — NFL, 1960-1989
-Ed Sabol, 1964-1995
-Tex Schramm, 1947-1956 and 1960-1990 — Team Administrator — Los Angeles Rams, 1947-1956, Dallas Cowboys, 1960-1989; President/CEO — World League of American Football, 1989-1990
-Ralph Wilson Jr., 1960-2014 — Founder/Team Owner — Buffalo Bills
Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at email@example.com