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Gold Jacket Spotlight: Team-Builder Ron Wolf

Gold Jacket Spotlight: Team-Builder Ron Wolf

04/18/2021
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You can take a football man out of the player evaluation process, but that doesn’t mean you take the player evaluation process out of a football man.

More than two full decades after he last served as executive vice president and general manager of the Green Bay Packers and six summers removed from being enshrined as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015, Ron Wolf still loves to talk about the skills of players past and present.

As the National Football League counts down the days until its 2021 NFL Draft, the airwaves are filled with opinions about which team should take which player with which pick. Few of those so-called experts, however, could match wits with Ron, a 38-year veteran of player evaluations in the NFL whose career is rekindled this week in the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

Ron widely is recognized as one of the finest personnel men in the history of professional football. His career began with a phone call from Al Davis in 1963 that became a full-time position in scouting. In Ron’s 23 seasons with the Raiders (1963-1974 and 1979-1989), the team posted 17 winning records, won nine division titles, played in eight AFL or AFC championship games and won two Super Bowls in three appearances.

Hall of Famers Gene Upshaw, Art Shell, Fred Biletnikoff, Dave Casper, Howie Long, Marcus Allen, Ray Guy, Ken Stabler and Tim Brown were Raiders draft picks during Ron’s two stints with the team, several in the first round.

“All rounds are very important, but (Round) 1 is so very important. It’s where you’re spending your most time and preparation process,” Ron said in an interview with Hall of Fame Archives.

In 1992, Ron went to Green Bay, an NFL outpost whose fan base was yearning for a winning team. The glory days of the Vince Lombardi-era Packers were becoming a distant memory with the team managing only five winning records and one playoff victory over 24 seasons after the Hall of Fame coach stepped down.

Things changed quickly.

In Ron’s first year, the Packers went 9-7. By the second year, they were back in the playoffs and reached the second round. In 1995, they claimed the first of three consecutive NFC Central Division titles that led to NFC Championship Game appearances. The Packers advanced to back-to-back Super Bowls following the 1996 and 1997 seasons, defeating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.

Ron laid a foundation for continued success in Green Bay, and helped other teams improve, by mentoring five men who later became general managers across the NFL.

Equally adept at building rosters through the draft and by signing free agents (most notably, Reggie White), Ron comes down solidly on one side of the “select for need” versus “best player available” debate on how to use precious draft picks.

“What we tried to do every time was draft the best player,” Ron told the Hall. “We spent so much time with our (draft) board, getting it ready for the draft. It seemed like every time we jumped the board ... it didn’t work out quite like we thought it would.

“It’s a hard process. It’s a very diligent process,” he said. “You have to be very careful that you put the players where they belong in your mind on your board. Then draft off your board.”

Ron said teams not long ago could consider a draft successful if they selected three “real players” with their seven picks. “Now you’ve got to hit four or five of those seven. ... It sounds like an easy process, but it isn’t.”

Ron’s reputation was built partly on his ability to find quality NFL starters in the late rounds of a draft.

“You draft the last day solely off your board,” he said. “That’s usually where you come up with the jewels in the draft. … You only get one pick in 32, and you only get seven picks (overall). They’re like gold bars.”

Ron turned his gold bars into a gold jacket. With the next NFL Draft just around the corner, the time is right to put this Gold Jacket in the Spotlight.

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