The Greatest Raider of them all.
Other than Al Davis, NO ONE ever made an impact on the Oakland Raiders like Ron Wolf did.
When you ask a Raider fan who is the greatest Raider of all time, you will get several different answers. Maybe you will hear Ken Stabler, Art Shell or Gene Upshaw. Some may say Tim Brown or Marcus Allen or any of the other all time Raider greats like Jim Otto. In reality though, the greatest Raider of them all is Ron Wolf. Some under 30 years old are saying, “Who is Ron Wolf?”
Ron Wolf was Oakland’s Player Personnel Director and one of the greatest evaluators of talent in the history of the NFL and he now takes his place among the games greatest, recently being voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was the architect of the great Raider and Packer teams and was in charge of the draft and player moves starting in 1963. Few teams in history had a better scout team lead by Wolf.
Wolf was the perfect fit to team up with Al Davis. He was the strong silent type who didn’t compete for attention. It is fairly common knowledge that Wolf was one of the few people that Al Davis actually listened to, and followed. Many of the great Raiders of all time like Stabler, Shell, Upshaw, Tatum, Villapiano and Cliff Branch were all key choices by Ron Wolf. Wolf and Davis had no peers when picking up castoffs that other teams gave up on.
In 1975 Wolf took the job of Vice President of Operations for the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He went on to be the architect of the Bucs great early teams. His first draft included one of the greatest defensive lineman of all time Lee Roy Selmon and his brother Dewey, along with future 49er HOF QB Steve Young. In the second draft he selected the great USC running back Ricky Bell (whose career was cut short tragically by a terminal illness which took his life in 1984) and 12 year NFL starter Charley Hannah who played 6 years with the Raiders and won a Super Bowl v.s. Washington. With these key players, Tampa Bay is still the fastest expansion team in the history of the post merger era to win a division, a playoff game, and host an NFC championship game.
Citing differences with the meddling Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse and head coach John McKay, Wolf came back to the Raiders before the 1979 season. In usual fashion the Raiders soon drafted players like Marcus Allen (who they literally had to con Mr. Davis into thinking he was faster than he was) and Howie Long. Allen was considered a question mark by many because he was considered too slow and Long was thought to be a long shot due to him coming out of Villanova who no longer had football. Unfortunately though, Mr. Davis transformation had begun.
Al Davis Change is Complete:
What changed the NFL and the Raiders forever was in 1982, when Dallas Owner Tex Schramm asked the NFL competition committee to hold an evaluation time for all of the players together, so all of the teams can evaluate them at the same time. Before that, teams had the option to share notes, films, and evaluations. Now players would be timed and rated on basic exercises and drills in gym shorts at the NFL combines. Al Davis loved it, especially the 40 yard dash times which was his main tool when drafting a player. Ron Wolf considered the Raiders evaluation of players to be superior so he hated it. When he was asked once why he doesn’t share information or films with the rest of the league he said, “why would we; we know more than everyone else”. A true Raider.
As time went on in the 80’s their relationship became strained. The draft became a mini war between the two. In the 70’s they both often said, “the quarterback must go down, and go down hard”. The key to that was a strong defensive front seven but Al Davis had gone away from that formula.
The Green Bay Magic:
In 1991 without new Green Bay GM Wolf’s input, Mr. Davis was in total control and the Raiders 1st and 2nd round picks were Todd Marinovich and Nick Bell. Both would be out of the NFL in 3 years, which is easily one of the worst first 2 picks in history. With pretty much no one to contradict him, Wolf’s first moves for the Packers was to fire head coach Lindy Infante, hire Mike Holmgren and trade for an awkward quarterback in Atlanta by the name of Brett Favre. Within 4 years he transformed one of the worst defensive lines in the NFL to one of the best. He signed free agent DL’s Reggie White, Sean Jones, Santana Dotson and “The Gravedigger” Gilbert Brown. Along with free agency, he also drafted key pieces like RB’s Edgar Bennett and Dorsey Levens, TE Mark Chmura, WR’s Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks just to name a few. A little vindication for sure.
In his 9 years as GM of the Packers, Wolf helped lead them to the second best record in the NFL (second only to Bill Walsh’s 49er’s) and two Super Bowl appearances with one Super Bowl win.
His Rightful Place in the Pro Football HOF:
In time, every team that Ron Wolf directed became a winner. Last year during his daily interview on KCBS sports in the bay area, John Madden said, “The unsung hero of the Raiders will always be Ron Wolf. When Ron and Al were on the same page, it was pure magic. The genius of Mr. Davis at that time was to trust Ron Wolf and the scouts and it helped create a winning formula”.
Wolf’s mentoring tree is long and talented. It includes Packers GM Ted Thompson, Seahawks GM John Schneider, Chiefs GM John Dorsey, Washington GM Scot McCloughan, and Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie.
During their glory years, the Raiders had not only the highest winning percentage in football, but the highest winning percentage of any U.S. sports franchise during a two and a half decade span. In today’s world where teams tell you what they are going to do and mediocrity is celebrated, can you imagine how fans would react to such dominance? There aren’t enough memes or gifs to express it. Thus, every Raider fan young and old, should appreciate the legacy and foundation that was created with the talents of Ron Wolf; the greatest Raider of them all.