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Mike Vandermause column: Holmgren, Wolf one-two punch behind Packers' rebirth

Jul. 21, 2012
 

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They worked together for seven years and never had an argument or got mad at each other.

For Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf — one the Green Bay Packers’ head coach and the other the general manager — it was an NFL marriage made in heaven.

It’s one of the reasons the Packers’ franchise, stuck in losing quicksand for nearly a quarter century, was transformed starting in 1992 when Wolf and Holmgren came together to form a dynamic duo.

“People laugh when we say that, but we never did argue on anything,” said Holmgren, who was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday night at the Lambeau Field Atrium.

Naturally, Wolf served as Holmgren’s presenter.

Once Holmgren interviewed for the Packers job in January 1992, Wolf knew he had his man. The pair worked in perfect harmony in rebuilding the Packers from an NFL doormat to Super Bowl champion.

Wolf bought the groceries, and Holmgren cooked the food.

“I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I was smart enough to know that this man over here can put a football team together and run a football organization,” said Holmgren while standing next to Wolf. “The beauty of the relationship is he always asked about how I felt about whatever. And I appreciated that. And then if you build an organization, whether it’s players to players, players to coaches, coaches to front office, and operate with an idea of mutual respect, you shouldn’t have a lot of problems. There shouldn’t be a lot of stuff. Who cares who gets the credit? And that’s the way it was. It was good.”

It was better than good. The Packers had produced just five winning seasons in the previous 24 seasons, but beginning in 1992 reeled off seven consecutive winning records under Holmgren and Wolf, six straight playoff berths, three division titles, two Super Bowl berths and a championship.

The two men respected each other in the 1990s, and nothing has changed nearly 20 years later.

Wolf has a theory about why they got along so well.

“Mike Holmgren was about what’s best for the football team,” Wolf said. “That’s an amazing trait.”

Then Wolf added with a laugh: “He had a much bigger ego than I had, but that never got in the way.”

Holmgren impressed Wolf with his approach to football, and that he was all about finding ways to win without using excuses.

“The key was Mike’s approach to preparing his team to get ready to play the game,” Wolf said. “He once told me, ‘It doesn’t matter if I don’t have wide receivers, then I’ve got to figure out a way to win the game. It’s up to me. I’m the head coach. They’re not going to call the game off.’ And that characteristic is what carried him to his amazing record and exceptional job he did as a football coach in the National Football League. More important, what he did for the Packers.”

Several teams were seeking head coaches in 1992, and Holmgren could have had his pick of jobs. He gravitated toward Green Bay in large part because of Wolf during the interview process.

“The main thing was Ron,” Holmgren said.

“I really didn’t know him but we spent a day together and it wasn’t too long before I realized, ‘Listen, for a young coach coming into this league, a first-time head coach, I can’t do any better. I’ve got the best person to teach me how to do this, to get me my players, to run the organization.’”

While Holmgren was enamored with Wolf and the Packers, the feelings were mutual. Wolf was downright giddy when he landed what he considered the perfect candidate.

“When I finished (interviewing) with Mike Holmgren, I knew where I wanted to go … I knew who it was I wanted to be head coach for the Packers,” Wolf said. “You meet Mike and you listen to what he has to say about his approach to the game and how important the tradition of the game is to him and more importantly the tradition of the Green Bay Packers.

“All you have to do is listen to him. Once you hear him then it’s over.”

It was the start of a beautiful relationship.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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