A linebacker with more sacks than Lawrence Taylor and the former Packers executive who reversed the fortunes of the franchise will find out on Saturday if they’ve been selected as finalists for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Packers Outside Linebackers Coach Kevin Greene and former Packers general manager Ron Wolf are among a group of 26 semifinalists that will be pared to 15 finalists. Greene was a pass-rush star for four teams, most prominently for the Steelers and Panthers. Wolf was the Packers’ general manager from 1991-2001 and laid the foundation for the Packers’ most successful decade since Vince Lombardi was the team’s coach.
“To do what he did with a team that was struggling mightily, I think it’s a remarkable thing. The more I learn and grow, the more I know how hard that was to do,” current Packers General Manager Ted Thompson said of Wolf, the man who gave Thompson his start and trained him in the same system of personnel evaluation Thompson employs today.
“When he leaves the Jets to come here, the repercussions of that are still being felt today, in a good way for the Packers. He trained a lot of young scouts. There are disciples of Ron all over the NFL.”
Thompson was on Wolf’s first personnel staff in Green Bay and was obviously taking notes when Wolf taught Thompson the first lesson of football: It starts with the quarterback.
The signature move of Wolf’s career was his decision in ’92, only a few months after hiring Mike Holmgren to be the team’s head coach, to trade a first-round draft pick to Atlanta for a young quarterback named Brett Favre.
“People thought it was the most idiotic thing ever,” Thompson said.
Those people were wrong, as Favre led the Packers on a two-decade run of success that included a Super Bowl championship in the 1996 season. Wolf had fallen in “love” with Favre while scouting him for the 1991 draft as the Jets’ director of player personnel.
“He had an extra day, so he goes down there and he had an old acquaintance that was retired and he told him about (Favre) and he watched the tape. He used the term that any time Brett Favre walked on the field, the field tilted in favor of Southern Mississippi,” Thompson recalled.
Four years after Wolf retired, Thompson returned to Green Bay from a successful stint in Seattle to try to return the team to the glory of the Wolf years, and Thompson’s signature move immediately harkened memories of his mentor: Thompson selected a quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, with the Packers’ first-round pick.
“There are a lot of us in this building that wouldn’t be here without him. He left a pretty big footprint,” Thompson said of Wolf.
Greene has been “married” to Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers since the two were united in Pittsburgh in 1992. Each has prospered, as a result.
“When I look at the guys inducted into the Hall of Fame, he’s very deserving,” said Capers, who coached Greene to prominence while the two were with the Steelers, and then brought Greene to Carolina when Capers was the head coach there. “He led the league in sacks at both places.
“He’s the most productive pass-rusher I ever coached. I think Kevin is like Rickey Jackson, who was taken into the Hall of Fame. If you compare him, Kevin is the all-time leader as a linebacker in sacks,” Capers said.
“You can’t ignore the fact this guy has more sacks than L.T. (Lawrence Taylor).”
Greene’s career was revitalized in 1993 when he was signed, make it saved, in free agency by the Steelers. His production plummeted the previous season while with the Rams, where Jeff Fisher was named defensive coordinator and changed the scheme to a 4-3 front that moved Greene off the line of scrimmage and didn’t feature him in a pass-rush role.
In Pittsburgh, Capers moved Greene back onto the line as a front-side, Clay Matthews-type rush-backer and the sacks started to pile up. It culminated in a league sacks title for Greene in 1994 in the Steelers’ vaunted “Blitzburgh” defense.
“You could tell he had a true love for the game. It’s one of the things that makes him an outstanding coach right now,” Capers said.
The Packers hope to enrich their history by cheering two more members of their family into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Additional coverage - Jan. 5