ASHWAUBENON — A few years ago, Ron Wolf and his wife, Edie, moved back to the greater Green Bay area. They still spend half the year in Florida — “A lot longer in Florida,” Wolf, a proud snowbird, corrected — but being back in the town where he became a legend has its privileges.
Not only does it mean the retired Green Bay Packers general manager is closer to the team he resurrected, he’s also able to see his son, Eliot — the Packers’ second-in-command on the personnel side under GM Ted Thompson — and daughter-in-law Regan more often.
Truth be told, though, not even having a street named for him in this Green Bay suburb adjacent to Lambeau Field — Ron Wolf Way was christened by the village Tuesday — compares with being able to spend time his granddaughter, Daisy. She even accompanied her grandpa on stage for the unveiling of his new street sign.
“She’s a remarkable young lady,” the 78-year-old Wolf said.
Now, he’ll be able to put Daisy in her car seat and drive her down Ron Wolf Way and show her his legacy — from a redeveloped Lambeau Field to the team’s new Titletown district, all because he hired coach Mike Holmgren, traded for quarterback Brett Favre, signed defensive end Reggie White and rescued the once-proud organization from oblivion after two decades of losing in the 1970s and ’80s.
“Every day,” Wolf replied when asked how often he’ll drive on his street, which was created by the Titletown district development. “(We’ll) get an ice cream up at the Dairy Queen and come on by.”
It’s impossible to overstate what Wolf’s November 1991 hiring meant to the franchise. In his nine full seasons as the Packers’ general manager, the team went 101-57 (including 9-5 in the postseason). The 1996 team won Super Bowl XXXI, while the 1997 team reached Super Bowl XXXII, losing to the Denver Broncos.
More importantly, he altered a loser’s mentality that was permeating the franchise.
“We were coming off 24 years of mediocre football, and I felt we had reached the point where we had to change the way we were doing business,” retired Packers president Bob Harlan said. “The executive committee, they were all fine businessmen, but they weren’t football people. I thought we needed a change and bring in a strong football person. The way we were doing it, it wasn’t working,”
Shortly after his hiring, Wolf went to Harlan’s office after watching a practice led by then-coach Lindy Infante. “He said, ‘We’ve got a problem on this practice field. This team is 4-10, and they’re down there acting like they’re 10-4,’” Harlan recalled. “He changed the culture overnight, and that’s exactly what this franchise needed.”
Wolf did that with a series of moves that proved brilliant.
First, he fired Infante and hired Holmgren, who’d served as Bill Walsh’s offensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers. Then he traded the Packers’ 1992 first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons for Favre, whom Wolf had coveted in the previous year’s draft while working for the New York Jets. And, in 1993, he signed White to a four-year, $17 million free-agent deal, destroying the perception that Green Bay was, as current president Mark Murphy said Tuesday, was the NFL’s “Siberia.”
Wolf, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015, retired following the 2001 NFL draft. His scouting tree sprouted five future NFL GMs: Thompson, Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, Seattle Seahawks GM John Schneider, ex-Kansas City Chiefs GM John Dorsey and ex-Washington Redskins GM Scot McCloughan.
Flanked by Edie, Eliot, Regan and Daisy, and surrounded by a contingent of Packers staff including Thompson, Wolf called the street an honor that “reflects upon the job all of you did while I was working with you with the Packers.”
“I had a lot of help here. I’m very appreciative of the job they did in enabling me to have a street named after me, among other things,” Wolf said. “It’s a marvelous feeling.
“When a person has the opportunity to come here and work for the Green Bay Packers, it’s the ultimate place in professional football. Without question, it’s the crown jewel of the NFL. For me to be able to be a small part of the history of this thing, it’s a remarkable feeling.”