PHOENIX – Ron Wolf's rebuilding of the Green Bay Packers from a failing franchise in the 1970s and '80s to the model organization it is today has won him a place among rare company.
The Packers' former general manager was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor and joins Bill Polian as only the second and third true GMs to gain pro football's highest individual honor.
They join Jim Finks, the former Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints GM, as the only men in the hall strictly because of their work in player personnel. Wolf and the rest of this year's class will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 8.
"That's going to be unbelievable," Wolf said after he and the rest of this year's class were announced on the "NFL Honors Show." "A little ol' kid from New Freedom, Pa., has got his bust in Canton, Ohio. Amazing. Never going to happen."
The Hall of Fame this year opened the door to Wolf and Polian getting in because of its concern that only nine of the 19 contributors in the hall were enshrined in the last 49 years. Contributors were having a hard time getting serious consideration when compared with players and coach, so the Hall of Fame created a committee to fast track two contributor candidates straight to the finalist list, which meant they automatically got an up or down vote at the selector meeting Saturday.
Wolf, 76, also is the 23rd Hall of Fame member whose primary team was the Packers. Only Chicago has more with 27.
"You're walking along and you can't believe that with all the people that are eligible for this that you finally in got in there," Wolf said. "
This year's Hall of Fame class includes five modern-day players: running back Jerome Bettis, defensive lineman Charles Haley, receiver Tim Brown, linebacker Junior Seau and guard Will Shields.
The other new member is former Minnesota Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff, the seniors committee nominee.
Kevin Greene, the former Packers outside linebackers coach and the No. 3 sacker in NFL history, made the first cut Saturday from 15 modern-era finalists to 10, but did not make the cut to five for an up or down vote. The candidates who advanced that far needed a yes vote from at least 80 percent of the 46-member selector committee to be enshrined.
Wolf was voted in mainly because of his work as the Packers' GM, which he served as from late in the 1991 season through the 2001 draft. But his long and distinguished career also includes playing an important role as a top personnel adviser in two stints with Al Davis' Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders (1963-74 and '79-89); as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers first GM (1976-78), where he drafted many of the key players that played for the NFC championship in the 1979 season; and with the New York Jets (1990-91).
Wolf's greatest accomplishment in the NFL was turning around a Packers franchise that for the 24 seasons before he arrived had only three winning seasons. In his 10 full seasons running their football operations, the Packers' .650 winning percentage was second best in the NFL, behind only San Francisco (.669). His Packers won Super Bowl XXXI over New England in the 1996 season and lost Super Bowl XXXII to Denver the next year. They qualified for the playoffs in seven of his 10 years and never finished below .500.
"The turnaround Ron Wolf directed for the Green Bay Packers is probably as significant as any in the history of the NFL," said Packers Chairman Emeritus Bob Harlan, who hired Wolf late in 1991.
Wolf said that he took the Packers job because he didn't think he could pass the chance at an age, 53, when it can be hard to land a GM job.
"Just the opportunity to run a franchise the way I felt a franchise should be run," he said. "You know, it worked. I had a lot of help, and I learned a lot from Al Davis. Learned an awful lot from (New York Jets GM) Dick Steinberg even though I was only with Dick for a year and a half. I tweaked a lot of what I learned from him and put into play in Green Bay and had a lot of success. We won 101 games in nine years in a place everyone says you aren't going to win."
Wolf also left behind a stable and lasting infrastructure that's produced winning football since his retirement. Current GM Ted Thompson started working for the Packers as a Wolf hire in 1992 and uses Wolf's scouting system. Since the '92 season, the Packers have the second-best winning percentage (.637) in the NFL, behind only New England (.641).
Wolf's signature moves with the Packers were trading a first-round draft pick for quarterback Brett Favre and hiring Mike Holmgren early in the 1992 offseason, and signing defensive end Reggie White as a free agent in 1993. The Favre and White moves will go down as among the best in NFL history in their acquisition categories.
"I hit on a big one," Wolf said in reference to trading for Favre. "I hit a guy that's probably going to be in the Hall of Fame next year."
"I owe much to Ron as he traded for me and brought me to the Green Bay Packers," Favre said in a statement released Saturday night. "He built Green Bay into a championship team that contended each year. His legacy of success continues today."
Wolf also had an exceptional record as a mid- to later-round drafter, which more than made up for his spotty first-round record.
Wolf's only great first-round pick was the trade for Favre, and he missed big on several others – most notably Terrell Buckley, John Michels and Jamal Reynolds.
But his list of important contributors picked in the third round or later includes receiver Robert Brooks (third round), tight end Mark Chmura (sixth round), tackle Earl Dotson (third round), cornerback Doug Evans (sixth round), running back Dorsey Levens (fifth round), linebacker Brian Williams (third round), receiver Antonio Freeman (third round), guard Adam Timmerman (seventh round), defensive end Keith McKenzie (seventh round), receiver Donald Driver (seventh round), defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (fifth round), and tackle Mark Tauscher (seventh round).
During Wolf's tenures with the Raiders, the franchise won two Super Bowls, lost one other, and qualified for the playoffs 12 times.
Wolf also has five protégés running NFL teams: Thompson, John Schneider with the Seattle Seahawks, John Dorsey with the Kansas City Chiefs, Reggie McKenzie with the Raiders and Scot McCloughan with Washington.
Said Thompson: "The leadership and vision he brought to the Green Bay Packers continues to serve as an example for all of us in the organization."