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Sunday Punch

How Wolf rebuilt Packers into powerhouse

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By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist
Published October 26, 2003

Green Bay was struggling in December 1991 when Ron Wolf was hired as general manager. He immediately fired Lindy Infante as coach, naming Mike Holmgren. Wolf's next search would be for an extraordinary quarterback.

But there was other stuff.

Heavy brainpower was being expended on restoring the Packers to excellence they had not known since Vince Lombardi cheesed out in 1969 to finish his coaching with the Redskins.

"We needed a big overhaul," said Wolf, now 65 and retired to Annapolis, Md. "Coaches, players and attitude were major priorities. I wanted to get back to Packers roots." In the 24 seasons after Lombardi's run of four NFL championships, Green Bay had stumbled to a 146-201-9 record.

Wolf was so committed to change he even decided to alter classic Packers uniforms, though to tinker with a Green Bay look so famous and revered might've been characterized as ranking somewhere between sacrilege and stupidity.

More about that later.

Wolf had no shortage of guts. He was personnel wizard for the high-flying Raiders, fueling the Al Davis machine. Wolf got his first shot at front-office leadership with the 1976-77 Bucs but they quickly clunked to 2-26 misery. Ron was fired and headed home to Oakland.

It was another 14 years before Green Bay offered Wolf his next boss man opportunity. This time, he was ready. Unlike with the Bucs, he had total control. Doing whatever he deemed necessary to rebuild.

But the uniforms? Would anybody dare strip pinstripes from the Yankees? Would you shuck the star from Cowboys helmets? Or add player names and design splash to Penn State uniforms?

"I never liked the yellow color in the Packers scheme," Wolf said. "NFL books say it's "green and gold' but anybody can see it's a Michigan kind of yellow, of maize, which didn't sit well with me.

"I put together a proposal to change Green Bay uniforms, replacing the yellow with a gold much like we see on Rams uniforms and helmets. There were some other changes but I wasn't messing with the "G' on Packers helmets.

"Everything was approved by the seven-member executive committee that operates the Packers. All I had to do was give the go-ahead." Then, on the frozen tundra, Wolf's feet turned cool.

"I repeatedly looked over drawings of the new Packers uniform, thinking I would soon be pulling the trigger on changes. But, after a little more thought, decided it just didn't fly. We needed to fix what was truly broken. What we really had to have was better people on the field."

Wolf, a man of many right moves.

"We got lucky and pulled off a deal to get a killer quarterback, Brett Favre, from Atlanta. We got better and better. We did okay in those green and yellow uniforms."

Wolf delivered three consecutive NFC Central championships, two Super Bowl appearances and one Lombardi Trophy. Ron was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame. Retiring as a Green Bay icon.

Goals achieved, if not gold.

- Whatever happened to Donny Anderson?

NICK'S DEMEANOR ... PRICELESS: It was his crowning moment, being inducted last week into the World Golf Hall of Fame, but Nick Price was thinking about home, the ravaged country of Zimbabwe.

"It's awful there," he said. "Really intimidating. Widespread famine. I wish there was hope, but I can't see any positive prospects."

Price grew up in old Rhodesia, where farming was the prime commodity, before his county had a governmental and name change, evolving into a devastating cultural spin.

"It tears Nick up to get updates from Zimbabwe," said David Leadbetter, a native of the same land and an Orlando-based mega teacher who has been Nick's golf instructor 26 years and his best pal forever. "For years, he has given tens of thousands of dollars annually to help keep junior golf alive in Zimbabwe. Most kids involved are black."

Price's eyes moistened as he spoke with me about Zimbabwe. For more than 20 years, he has lived in Florida. He is a multimillionaire with an oceanfront home and a G3 private jet. I've written more than once that, among the thousands of athletes with whom I have dealt, there is nobody classier, nicer and more caring than Nick Price.

"I try to make my three children know what it's like where their dad grew up, but it's difficult for them to comprehend," he said. "I am in constant phone contact with friends in Zimbabwe. Most have had their family farms stolen.

"I am proud to say junior golf has more numbers than ever. We had about 100 in the '70s but today it's 250. I want to believe better days can come, but I see no signs."

THE LAST WORD: There's been no more impressive coaching job in college football than at Navy, where 1-10 records have been the norm, with Paul Johnson getting away to a 5-3 start, including beating then-nationally ranked Air Force and SEC member Vanderbilt.

Letting us know that programs without crusty recruiting, manufactured academics or NFL promise still can generate pure joy. I mean, not that Fisher DeBerry at Air Force hasn't achieved that repeatedly.

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Hubert Mizell: How Wolf rebuilt Packers into powerhouse

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