When you ask a Raider fan who is the greatest Raider of all time, you will get several different answers. Maybe you will hear Art Shell or Gene Upshaw. Some may say Tim Brown or Marcus Allen or any of the other all time Raider greats. In reality though, the greatest Raider of them all is Ron Wolf. If you are under 30 years old you are saying, “Who is Ron Wolf?”
Ron Wolf was one of the greatest evaluators of talent in the history of the NFL and will eventually be in the hall of fame. He was in charge of the draft and player personnel moves starting in 1963. He was Al Davis quiet right hand man.
Wolf was the perfect fit to team up with Al Davis. He was thestrong silent type who didn’t compete for attention with Mr. Davis. It is fairly common knowledge that Wolf was one of the few people that Al Davis actually listened too, and followed. Under Wolf the Raiders scouting team was the best in football. Many of the great Raiders of all time like Stabler, Shell, Upshaw, Tatum and Cliff Branch were all key choices by Ron Wolf. Wolf and Davis had no peers when it came to drafting and picking up castoffs that other teams gave up on.
In 1975 the NFL approached Davis and Wolf and asked if Wolf could take over the GM position for the newly created Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mr. Davis reluctantly agreed as long as this would not be a permanent thing.
Wolf went on to be the architect of the Bucs. His first 3 drafts were hall of famer Leroy Selmon, the great USC running back Ricky Bell (whose career was cut short tragically by a terminalillness which took his life in 1984) and QB Doug Williams who eventually became the first black quarterback to ever win theSuper bowl with the Washington Redskins. With these 3 key players they are 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 1980 season. In usual fashion the Raiders soondrafted players like Marcus Allen and Howie Long. Players that other teams said were reaches. Allen was considered a 3rd down back by many because he was too considered too slow and Long was thought to be a long shot due to him coming out of Villanovawho no longer had football.
Unfortunately though, Mr. Davis transformation had begun. He was obsessed with speed and the long ball trading popular Kenny Stabler for strong armed Dan Pastorini. When Pastorini bombed and lost his job to Jim Plunkett, Mr. Davis insisted on drafting another strong armed QB out of BYU named Marc Wilson. Afew years later the Raiders drafted speedster Jessie Hester proclaiming him to be the next Cliff Branch.
What changed the NFL and the Raiders forever was in 1982, Dallas Owner Tex Schramm asked the NFL competition committee to hold an evaluation time for all of the players, 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 speed times. Ron Wolf, considering the Raiders evaluation of players to be superior, hated it.
As time went on in the 80’s their relationship strained. While Mr. Davis was obsessed with speed at wide receiver and defensive back, Wolf stuck to his roots of shoring up the defensive and offensive line. In the 70’s Al Davis coined the phrase, “the quarterback must go down, and must go down hard”. The key to that was a strong defensive front seven but Al Davis had gone away from that formula, obsessing about speed.
In 1991 Wolf left the Raiders to become the general manager of the Green Bay Packers. His first moves were to fire the coachingstaff and to hire Mike Holmgren as his new head coach. He also traded for a little known quarterback playing in Atlanta by the name of Brett Favre. The Packers soon signed the biggest free agent on the market, Reggie White as well as Santana Dotson and Sean Jones. Wolf drafted another stud defensive lineman, “the gravedigger” Gilbert Brown. Their defensive line was a nightmare to stop.
In his 9 years as GM of the packers, Wolf had helped lead them to the second best record in the NFL (second only to Bill Walsh’s 49ers) and two Super Bowl appearances with one Super Bowl win.
Every team that Ron Wolf led became a winner. During his glory days with the Raiders, no one could draft or evaluate talent like he did. The Raiders took players that other teams felt were not fast enough, not big enough or from very small schools that no one ever heard of. Some even had legal problems like WR Warren Wells who John Madden still says is the best player he ever coached, never having a season with less than 20 yards per catch. They cared about two things; can the person play football andcan they be a part of a winner.
Last year during his daily interview on CBS sports in the bay area, John Madden said the unsung hero of the Raiders will always be Ron Wolf. Mr. Davis would allow him to draft players that fit the Raider mold. They both were on the same page and 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. Together they lead the Raiders to not only the highest winning percentage in football, but the highest winning percentage of any sports franchise during a two and a half decade span. The first draft choice Mr. Davis made after Ron Wolf left was Todd Marinovich.
Ron Wolf belongs in that long list of Raiders who belong in the hall of fame. Every Raider fan, young and old, should appreciate the legacy and foundation that was created by Al Davis and Ron Wolf; the greatest Raider of them all.
(Up next for Friday May 17: Where do they go from here? AmyTrasks’ departure; the true end of the Al Davis era)