Cory's Corner: Ron Wolf Was A Master Builder

When you hear the name Ron Wolf, what does it mean to you?

When I hear that name, I think of a transformative maverick. 

Before Wolf took over as executive vice president and general manager of the Green Bay Packers in 1991, the franchise was a complete comic strip. For 19 straight seasons, the Packers made the playoffs only one time — and that was during the strike-shortened 1982 season, which only had a nine-game regular season. 

"Ron Wolf is a person that is vitally important in the history of this franchise, a select few that includes Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi," said former Packers president Bob Harlan, who hired Wolf. 

Wolf was special because he turned Green Bay into a magnet in the NFL community. He knew that in order for the Packers to turn things around in the smallest market in all of professional sports, he would have to take some risks.

And that's what I liked about Wolf. He saw something in Brett Favre that a lot of people never did. (Strikingly similar to Brian Gutekunst with Jordan Love.) 

Favre was a backup quarterback in Atlanta that had only attempted four passes while holding a clipboard to Pro Bowler Chris Miller. Wolf coveted Favre so much that he sent the Packers No. 19 pick to the Falcons, gambling that Favre would become Green Bay's franchise quarterback. 

"Would the other GMs have done that?" said Favre to NFL Films. "No. He was the only one that was going to do that, and I'm thankful for that. When I was struggling early in my career, he called me and he said, 'Look, I've got a lot invested in you. And I believe that if you go down, I go down. You're our guy.' And I needed that."

The Falcons and the rest of the NFL were chuckling that someone was interested in their backup quarterback that wasn't taking the NFL very seriously. He was attracted to the NFL lifestyle, not the NFL. 

Wolf was spot on. If Favre would've flopped after three years, Wolf was done in Green Bay as well. But Favre went four-for-four on the final drive vs. Cincinnati, including that 35-yard laser to Kitrick Taylor for the game winner to prove that he belonged

Wolf only built from there. Green Bay wasn't a place that free agents even considered going to, but Wolf and Mike Holmgren shocked everyone by getting Reggie White, the top free agent in 1993. That opened the floodgates as Sean Jones came the following year, Santana Dotson in 1995 and Desmond Howard in 1996. 

It's amazing how impactful one signing had on the franchise, but it changed everything. All of a sudden, the Packers were respected and moved to the NFL's adult table. In Favre's second season as a starter, Green Bay went to the playoffs six straight seasons, advancing to a pair of Super Bowls and winning one. 

Fan interest followed. Lambeau Field had a capacity of 59,543 in 1990 and by 2003 it was 72,515. Obviously, the Packers don't add seats for a franchise that cannot draw or that isn't successful. Wolf not only made the Packers successful, he turned them into a hot ticket. 

While Wolf was the general manager from 1992-2000, the Packers never had a losing season and went 92-52 and in 2015 he was enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame. 

Gutekunst has a lot of Wolf in him. I like that he sticks to his guns with who he believes in and then he goes out and gets him. 

But just like Wolf said about Favre, if Love doesn't work out, Gutekunst isn't going to be around very long. 

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Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Comments (55)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
stockholder's picture

May 12, 2020 at 07:44 am

Please don't compare Wolf to Gutey. It's not even close.

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Coldworld's picture

May 12, 2020 at 08:44 am

No way of knowing how the comparison will look in 5 or ten years. As Cory pointed out, sending a number 19 pick to get a party animal back up was a subject of mirth or derision ... for a time. Gute has done nothing so crazy and Wolf has his missteps too.

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jannes bjornson's picture

May 12, 2020 at 06:46 pm

sherman, Michaels, letting Wayne Simmons go in free agency...

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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

May 12, 2020 at 02:43 pm

He compared Gutey to Wolf in style of management, not in results, and that's totally fair. As a matter of fact, it is much different than the the Thompson style and well worth pointing out.

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Packer_Fan's picture

May 12, 2020 at 07:48 am

Absolutely. He overturned the franchise and we have been fortunate for 28 years that he did.

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mnbadger's picture

May 12, 2020 at 08:12 am

Great story, thanks for highlighting the professional risk that wolf took. He was a visionary with good, not great (see t buck pick) vision.
Way too early for comparisons between gutey and wolf.

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gkarl's picture

May 12, 2020 at 08:30 am

mnbadger

Agree, but it's May and writers need to write about something this time of year. Are there some early career similarities yes. Still it's a long way to the HOF, and a short trip to the unemployment line.

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13TimeChamps's picture

May 12, 2020 at 12:15 pm

T-buck had over 50 INTs and lasted in the NFL almost 15 years.
Wolf drafted him. He didn't coach him.

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dblbogey's picture

May 12, 2020 at 04:44 pm

Buckley never made a pro bowl. Not good for the 5th overall pick. He was a flop in Green Bay for sure. Wolf missed a lot with his early picks, but was very good at the free agency game.

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13TimeChamps's picture

May 12, 2020 at 08:44 pm

The Pro Bowl? You mean that beauty/popularity contest the NFL holds every year?
Jeff Saturday, the dismal year he played for the Packers, made that contest.
Who cares if he never made a Pro Bowl? Over 50 INT's...pretty impressive career.
Wolf had his misses like any GM. Buckley wasn't one of them, even if he didn't make it in GB. He sure as hell did elsewhere.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 12, 2020 at 06:38 pm

Wolf was right with T Buck. 14 years in the league, not with the Packers. He did have his clunkers (Walker) fewer the most GMs.

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13TimeChamps's picture

May 12, 2020 at 08:48 pm

Javon Walker was drafted in 2002. Mike Sherman was the GM, not Wolf.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 13, 2020 at 02:08 am

I was thinking of Jamal Reynolds of Florida St. I always got him and Walker mix up when I saw them play at Florida St.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 12, 2020 at 08:29 am

The organization is still benefiting from the structure and process Wolf brought.

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Coldworld's picture

May 12, 2020 at 08:50 am

In my view we would be, but unless you consider Murphy GM, Murphy undid core aspects.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 12, 2020 at 09:29 am

He has changed some of the front office structure. Other parts, like scouting, remain.

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Coldworld's picture

May 12, 2020 at 12:09 pm

Agreed. Comment was more aimed at what I consider a step back from the better position bequeathed.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 12, 2020 at 06:43 pm

All true. And that was the fight between Gute and Murphy was over. Gute won. Executive committee backed him. He is now the most powerful GM since Wolf...

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Coldworld's picture

May 13, 2020 at 07:50 am

I do not think that is true. LaFleur and this scheme we are getting are Murphy not Gute. Gute still reports to Murphy and LaFleur and Ball do not report to Gute as they did to TT. TT was effectively unscrutinized, as Murphy admitted when it all blew up.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 13, 2020 at 02:13 pm

Yes I know. I think you have misread the situation. We'll agree to disagree. But the reality is Gute reports to the executive committee not Mark Murphy, as stated by Gute in his interview with Jason Wilde. In each and every case, especially just before training camp the board of directors (sub committee on daily over site) back Gute in clarifying who had final say in both player and coaching changes. It's in his contract, which both Bob Harlan and Gute pointed out in separate interviews with both ESPN radio and the Wisconsin radio network. I'll make it simple. Have you seen Mark Murphy making any statements in public since Gute was hired on player personnel or coaching matters after the McCarthy firing. Firing McCarthy was an outright power grab by Murphy, one that he dearly paid for with loss of authority. He's a lame duck with limited power waiting for his contract to run out early next year. The really sad part, is Murphy has been a good to very good manger of the day-to-day operations on the business side of the house. Why he decided to go out like this, is beyond me.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 13, 2020 at 02:47 pm

Two short points. (Yes, yes I'll keep it short...) Russ Ball does not enter into this. He is employed by the Packers in a position in the front office. He is not an officer as stated in the Packer by-laws. (He is only involved in this due to Murphy's actions) The search for a VP/GM quickly became a farce, with Murphy trying to hire Russ Ball over the objections of the majority of the executive committee members. That failure signaled a major power struggle ongoing inside 1265, which burst out into the open with Gute's midnight hiring. Two: As '61 mentioned, neither the board nor the full executive committee wanted to deal with this. If they did not step up and do their due diligence, they would be marked for years to come within their business communities. In the end, in the face of both outside and inside pressure they acted to protect Gute's position. Both the Packer by-laws and Gute's contract demanded it.

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jannes bjornson's picture

May 12, 2020 at 07:02 pm

Retaining Ball is a step back, but MM blocking his advancement to GM was a God -send. Now we can move back to the Wolf vs Gutey conversation. Remember, he moved the mechanic in as a HC and threw dust in the face of Andy Reid. Wolf made more mistakes in the second wave of his tenure than hits. Hood-winking Ted and Holmgren for Ahman Green was another solid move.

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TheVOR's picture

May 12, 2020 at 08:30 am

Ya, I'd never compare Gutz to Ron Wolf. That Gold Jacket means something in his case, he was one of the best of the absolute best. Great executive, no BS guy. Any GM who can say he had Brett Favre, Mark Brunell, Ty Detmer, and Kurt Warner in a single training camp, kind of says it all. He actually put the legs back under the franchise and restored it. I'll go as far as to say the Packers franchise foundation that he started back in the 90's is still positioned well because of him and Bob Harlan.

I'd love to meet Ron one day, what a Legend. Gutz has a very long way to go before he can be bundled into the same breath. It's kind of tough comparison after this last draft.

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Demon's picture

May 12, 2020 at 08:41 am

There is no comparison here at all. Wolfe brought a franchise back from the dead. Transforming the Pack from a laughingstock to an NFL powerhouse.

Does anyone here think that Wolfe would have drafted Love in the 1st while AR is still on the roster? Not a chance!

The one position I think we can all agree on that Wolfe kept the team well stocked in was QB. Ty Detmer, Mark Brunnell, Aaron Brooks, Matt Hasselbeck, all QB's drafted by Wolfe with later round draft picks.

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Coldworld's picture

May 12, 2020 at 08:51 am

Yes, I think that’s exactly the kind of move RW would have made if he believed. It’s a whole lot less risky than his Favre move on several levels.

The difference is that RW’s success is posterity. Gute’s is yet unknown and may never materialize.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 12, 2020 at 09:27 am

He traded a number one pick for a third stringer who was drinking his way out of the league while we had Majik. Just a few years earlier, Majik had made the Pro Bowl and led the league in passing yards. Favre was on the bench, just like Rodgers and Love. Majik got hurt, Favre got his shot, and the rest is history.

Three times in 30 years the Packers have used a first round pick on a QB while we still had a good starter. The time to draft a QB is before you need him, not after.

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Demon's picture

May 12, 2020 at 09:50 am

Majik had a torn rotator cuff when wolfe arrived. Totally different circumstance.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 12, 2020 at 10:52 am

Malik had an injury history. Rodgers has an injury history and is older. Favre was older with no injury history but some concerning statements about retirement

So yeah, different. But the response is the same: Prepare for the future at QB because the future will be here sooner than you think. Love is one play away from being the starter...last year it was Boyle. Big difference. Much better now, next year, and the next.

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Coldworld's picture

May 12, 2020 at 12:11 pm

Really not significantly different at all.

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Demon's picture

May 13, 2020 at 07:29 am

It is significally different when you realize at the time, rotator cuff injuries were career killers for QB's and MLB pitchers.

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Coldworld's picture

May 13, 2020 at 07:52 am

Age is a killer and when it strikes cannot be predicted.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 13, 2020 at 09:40 am

He did play for five more years. It’s not like he was an amputee.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 12, 2020 at 10:53 am

Malik had an injury history. Rodgers has an injury history and is older. Favre was older with no injury history but some concerning statements about retirement

So yeah, different. But the response is the same: Prepare for the future at QB because the future will be here sooner than you think. Love is one play away from being the starter...last year it was Boyle. Big difference. Much better now, next year, and the next.

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jannes bjornson's picture

May 12, 2020 at 07:04 pm

Favre played with the broken thumb when he should have been in R and R. His pain medication covered up a lot of his dings and he had off-season surgery more than once. Favre's biggest fear in his later years will be his history with some severe concussions he played through, especially sacrificing his body for the purple slime in the shipwreck. Did he start all his games, yes. Should he have maintained the record , NO.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

May 14, 2020 at 02:09 am

I don't remember it that way. Majik had a fine year in 1989. But in 1990, he reverted to being the QB he'd always been. Ditto for 1991. Favre played for GB starting in 1992. Majik's stats:

1990: 8 GS, 4-4 record, 10 TDs, 12 INTs, 6.0 AY/A, 73.5 Passer Rating
1991: 8 GS, 2-6 record, 3 TDs, 8 INTS, dismal 4.7 AYA, dismal 59.3 PR

Yeah, GB needed a franchise QB when Wolf traded for Favre.

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Since'61's picture

May 12, 2020 at 09:37 am

Ron Wolf was considered one of the best executives in the NFL when Bob Harlan hired him. It was a great move by Harlan and Wolf came in and rebuilt the franchise.

As for Favre both Wolf and Holmgren with their respective teams wanted to draft Favre in 1991 but Atlanta picked ahead of them
and they took Favre. When Wolf started as Packer GM during the 1991 season the first game he attended as Packers GM was the Packers/Falcons game that season. He went down to the field and watched Favre during warmups and decided he wanted Favre then and there. Wolf hired Mike Holmgren as HC and Holmgren completely agreed with Wolf about Favre. Wolf made the trade and the rest is history.

The foundation for any NFL team is GM, HC and franchise QB. If the team has continuity at those 3 positions the chances for success increase dramatically. Has Gute achieved that now with MLF and Love? Only time will tell. But Gute’s and MLF’s future is now tied to Love Just like Wolf and Holmgren we’re tied to Favre and TT/MM we’re tied to Rodgers. Which is why I believe that we’ll see Love by 2022 at the latest, unless Love turns out to be a bust.

As for Wolf, considering that the NFL was transitioning to free agency during his early years in Green Bay, he did a brilliant job building the best team in the league for the 95-98 seasons. After Holmgren left for Seattle, neither Wolf nor Favre or the team were the same. There were probably another SB or 2 if Holmgren has remained in GB. We’ll never know. Stay well everyone.
Thanks, Since ‘61

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CheesyTex's picture

May 12, 2020 at 10:31 am

Absolutely right, '61.

It seems no one recently (other than Belichick) drafts strategically. The odds of the Packers having a shot over the next few years to draft a QB with Love's tools were very slim (while we'd like to see them with higher Draft choices, definitely prefer winning).

Some fun with numbers: Favre #4: ARod 4*3=#12; could Love be 4*2=#8 to continue the legacy of superb QB play?

Stay healthy.

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Since'61's picture

May 12, 2020 at 11:42 am

Cheesy - FYI, Love will continue to wear #10 with the Packers as he did at Utah State. Stay well. Thanks, Since ‘61

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PhantomII's picture

May 12, 2020 at 12:20 pm

`I was not crazy about the Love pick this draft year. I was thinking in 2 yrs. However, with the current state of things, and not knowing what kind of College season next year will be, not to mention NFL season. I think it will prove to be perfect timing. This kid Love lost his offensive coaching staff last year and also a lot of players. I think he returns to making good decisions and moves the ball well with good coaching and good players around him.

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NickPerry's picture

May 13, 2020 at 06:18 am

The kid was great in 2018. In 2019 he has 9 new starters, a new offense, coaching staff, but yet is getting hammered for taking a step back and his decision making. Bad decisions are often made because the QB is trying to hard to win, AND because he has limited skill position players around him. Favre did it for YEARS in Green Bay, both early and later in his career.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 12, 2020 at 06:33 pm

Some background to '61 comment. Wolf had two stints as a player personnel head before the Packers hired him. Raiders and Giants. (Technically he consulted for the Giants. He reported directly to the owners) In both he was credited in bringing both teams back from years of bad (in the case of the Raiders awful) decisions in drafting and signing free agents. As Wolf himself explained, he had only one condition for taking on the job. That he would have total control of all front office policy decisions. When then Packer president Bob Harlan approached Wolf, Al Davis the Raiders' owner was already begging Wolf to return to the organization with the promise that he would have total control over all front office decisions. The Mara's who Wolf was very close with, urged him to listen to the Harlan offer. By then, Harlan had a rep as being one of the few real 'stand up' guys in the league, especially with the old guard teams. Wolf himself explains the hiring was very simple. He listed his conditions, why he thought they were non negotiable and that Harlan would turn him down. Harlan agreed, and ask when can he start. And the rest is history... (The Wolf, Davis split is one of most talked about examples of bad owner behavior in the NFL. Al Davis fired Wolf because Davis thought Wolf was leaking stories about the Raiders front office operation. At least that was the excuse Davis used. Turned out Davis was jealous of Wolf of doing what he, Davis, was unable to do while he ran the front office. Al Davis's pettiness cost the Raiders for years on end for what he did to Wolf...)

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jannes bjornson's picture

May 12, 2020 at 07:19 pm

Wolf was with the Jets before coming to the Pack.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 13, 2020 at 02:23 am

I did not include the Jets as it was not a formal contract, and of very short duration. There is a real funny story about Wolf and the then Jets owner and the consult/non consult non contract....

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jannes bjornson's picture

May 12, 2020 at 07:12 pm

Or it could be tied to another QB, if Love is injured or under-performs. The Game is more fluid now and the QBs are hitting the open market via CAP casualties or trades. There is never a definitive moment in any of these games. It's up to the Player to excel and dodge the injury risks to substantiate a career. Absolutely agree with you about Mike Holmgren. '98 and 95 season were within grasp. So it goes.

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RCPackerFan's picture

May 12, 2020 at 10:58 am

You can compare what Wolf did to what Thompson did to what Gutey has done thus far and draw a quite a few similarities.

Wolf, brought in the HC in Holmgren. Then he got the QB in Favre, and he got the defensive stud in White. He also brought in other talented players obviously but those were the main 3 that changed the culture in GB.

Thompson brought in McCarthy. Then he got the QB in Rodgers and the defensive stud in Woodson. Similarly to what Wolf did, Thompson brought in a lot of other really good players but those were the main 3 to why they were as good as they were.

We don't know yet how it will work out for Gutey, but he brought in LaFleur. Now he drafted a QB in Love, and he has already brought in Za'Darius. Will that be the next group?

You can draw a lot of similarities in them. We have no clue how it will work out for Gutey/LaFleur, but when you start doing some comparisons you can find the similarities.

When Wolf came here he changed the culture. GB was bad for so long until he got here. He brought new life back into GB. He built the foundation to what we are accustomed to. That is the biggest difference between Wolf and anyone else. He changed the culture here. That is why he has the gold jacket!

Both Thompson and Gutey did step into difficult situations also, and that shouldn't be forgotten. While GB had been great for years before Thompson took over, the organization was a mess when he took over. Sherman should have never been put in the GM role as he really made a mess of it. Favre was on the downside of his career. Thompson came into a mess and did a tremendous job turning the team around. Gutey was brought into somewhat of a similar situation that Thompson came into. Thompsons final few years he really didn't draft well, didn't add anyone via free agency. Leaving Gutey short on talent. It still to early to tell how good or bad of a job Gutey is doing, but in his 2nd season the team did make it to the NFC Championship game.

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Coldworld's picture

May 13, 2020 at 07:59 am

Gute drew up the list of candidates, but Murphy made the choice of grad coach and cut short the interview process. LaFleur and his plan sold Murphy. Process effectively ended there.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 13, 2020 at 03:07 pm

There are two stories on LaFleur's hiring. Yours is one of them. The other is Murphy brought the LaFleur hire to the Board, which rejected it until they and the full executive committee heard from Gute. Gute made the case for LaFleur, then he was hired. There is an actual third story about LaFleur getting three separate calls on the hiring telling him yes, no, maybe.... :-)

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splitpea1's picture

May 12, 2020 at 11:08 am

I wish we had the same situation in the FO: one highly qualified individual making both the coaching and personnel decisions; " The Buck Stops Here" with one guy and everything flows downhill from there.

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Johnblood27's picture

May 12, 2020 at 11:53 am

Given the article title I am glad that Ron Wolf was not a fisherman...

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TXCHEESE's picture

May 12, 2020 at 04:25 pm

Not going to get in to comparisons, because it's still very early in the new regime. I did get a kick out of re-watching Favre's first game....man those were some crappy kickers that day. I remember we were returning from an anniversary trip in the islands and sitting at a bar in the Dallas airport watching highlights, and seeing Favre running around throwing darts everywhere. I turned and said to my wife that Majik has started his last game for the Packers.

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Stroh's picture

May 12, 2020 at 05:17 pm

"He saw something in Brett Favre that a lot of people never did. (Strikingly similar to Brian Gutekunst with Jordan Love." And the same as Thompson saw in Rodgers!

The article is stating the obvious.

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Coldworld's picture

May 13, 2020 at 08:00 am

Except it was Murphy who made the choice.

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Coldworld's picture

May 13, 2020 at 08:00 am

Except it was Murphy who made the choice.

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flackcatcher's picture

May 13, 2020 at 03:12 pm

No. It wasn't.

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Packman60's picture

May 12, 2020 at 05:19 pm

He's not comparing Gutey to Wolf big picture, just in their willingness to adhere to their conviction and go out and get a QB that they believed in. If the internet would've been around when Wolf made that trade for Favre it would've made the reaction to Gutey's pick seem lame by comparison. We traded the 19th pick for a player who had been drafted in the 2nd around the previous year, who hadn't hardly played and when he did play, looked like he didn't have a clue. We look back now and don't understand the risk Wolf took in making that move.

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