- Impressive lineage:
- John Schneider is the latest protégé of former Packers GM to build successful NFL team
- GM tree:
- Packers GM Ted Thompson, Chiefs GM John Dorsey and Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie all learned from Wolf
- Similar look:
- The Seahawks' imposing secondary resembles the physical units Wolf once built
It was the early days of NFL free agency in the 1990s, and the Green Bay Packers' personnel department was huddled in a room, watching tape of an offensive player when a member of the Los Angeles Rams defense began flashing on the screen.
"Who's that guy wearing Dave Elmendorf's number?" then-general manager Ron Wolf asked, referring to the Rams' standout safety in the 1970s.
The room was silent. The tape kept rolling. No.42 made another play for the Rams, then another. Wolf asked again, more loudly: Who is the guy wearing Elmendorf's number?
"I hear this voice, and it's John Schneider saying, 'Who's Dave Elmendorf?'" Wolf recalled in a phone interview with USA TODAY Sports this week. "And I said, 'I've got to get out of this business. I've been in it too long.'"
Wolf retired in 2001 after 41 years in the NFL, including a decade-long rebuilding project in Green Bay marked by the acquisition of Brett Favre, nine consecutive .500 or better records and two Super Bowl appearances with one win.
But Wolf's legacy continues to grow with the likes of Schneider, who climbed the Packers' ladder after a summer internship in 1992, became the Seattle Seahawks GM in 2010 and has them headed to Super Bowl XLVIII against the Denver Broncos on Feb. 2.
Current Packers GM Ted Thompson has a championship on his résumé. Chiefs GM John Dorsey combined with former Packers assistant coach Andy Reid to lead a turnaround in his first season in Kansas City. Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie got his first scouting job from Wolf, too.
"They were good guys. They were very good evaluators," Wolf said. "If you couldn't evaluate, then you weren't going to stay with me very long."
Wolf's scouting tree doesn't end there, just as Reid wasn't the only head coach to come from Mike Holmgren's staffs in Green Bay. And Holmgren was one of many branches for legendary coach Bill Walsh.
Scot McCloughan, a former Packers scout who now is a senior personnel executive with the Seahawks, had a hand in building the San Francisco 49ers' mighty roster as GM from 2005 to 2010.
The Broncos also have a direct link: assistant director of college scouting Lenny McGill, who was a college scout bridging the Wolf, Mark Hatley and Thompson regimes in Green Bay from 2000 to '08.
"You've got a lot of tentacles from that," said agent Marc Lillibridge, who scouted for the Packers from 2000 to 2005. "Even the guys out in Seattle — the Trent Kirchners and the Dan Morgans who weren't in exact accordance with Ron, working in the same building with him — they're learning from Schneider."
Odds are many of those second-generation hires went through the same, simple vetting process Wolf used with Schneider, Thompson and McKenzie (Dorsey beat Wolf there by six months): Put on the tape and write up these six players from the existing roster.
Afterward, Wolf would go over the evaluations with the prospective scout to see if he could express himself and, more important, had an eye for talent.
"You either have that or you don't," Wolf said.
To this day, Thompson tries to stick to some of the same physical specifications Wolf brought to Green Bay from his days with Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders, such as not drafting defensive backs under 5-11.
Football is a big man's game, Wolf would say, while also paraphrasing longtime Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry: Make one exception, and pretty soon you'll have a team of exceptions.
"It's still based on the way Ron Wolf trained us," Thompson told USA TODAY Sports of his roster-building philosophy in November.
"We're still trying to continue to push the envelope to try to get better all the time."
It's probably no coincidence Schneider has constructed a monster secondary in Seattle — albeit with 5-10 Earl Thomas starring at safety — and has taken a bold, diverse approach to overhauling the roster.
"We also try to pride ourselves on every avenue is as important as the other," Schneider told USA TODAY Sports recently. "We look at rookie free agency as just as important as a third-round draft choice."
Now 75, Wolf says the NFL's rules on hitting and padded practices have created an "entirely different" game, as neighbor Bill Parcells reminds him when they have dinner near their homes in Jupiter, Fla. Wolf has consulted for teams but has no interest in returning to the league in a full-time capacity.
On any given Sunday, though, Wolf can turn on the TV to see a few teams constructed in some derivative of his mold. And the tree isn't done growing.
At least three more Packers personnel executives who trained under Wolf — Brian Gutekunst, Alonzo Highsmith and Eliot Wolf, Ron's son who watched tape with him from a young age — figure to get shots as GMs at some point.
Dorsey's pro scouting director, Will Lewis, is an old Wolf hire. So is McKenzie's college scouting director, Shaun Herock. Wolf believes McCloughan, who turned down an interview with the Miami Dolphins this month, deserves another chance, too.
Odds are none of them remember seeing Elmendorf play. But like Schneider, Thompson, Dorsey and McKenzie, they remember what Wolf taught them in that room.
"I'm really proud of the job those guys have done," Wolf said. "I think it reflects on the ability they have, and they all like the game of football, which is so important."
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero.