I figured the writing was on the wall that Eliot Wolf’s days were numbered in Green Bay as soon as Brian Gutekunst was selected from within the Packers’ organization to succeed Ted Thompson as the team’s general manager. This was only solidified more when Russ Ball was subsequently named the executive vice president and director of football operations.
It meant Wolf was the odd man out. Already Director of Player Operations, he had ascended within the organization about as far has he could. And with Gutekunkst and Ball leapfrogging to the top of the front office, it appeared that Wolf had been passed over.
Of course his name was in the running for the open general manager position. Fans and pundits alike have long mentioned him on a short list as Thompson’s heir apparent. His credentials were impeccable. He was groomed from within since he was literally a kid and his own father wast the GM. And for many, they thought Wolf would be the slam dunk replacement for Thompson, especially after he continued to ascend the ranks and the Packers blocked the Lions for interviewing for their own GM opening in the 2016 off season.
It’s no secret he is a rising star in the NFL. After all, he’s a chip off the old block.
So it was no huge surprise when the first team to offer him a job after the Packers passed him over was headed by a former Packer. This morning the Cleveland Browns named Wolf their Assistant General Manager, answering to John Dorsey, former Packer linebacker who had also held Wolf’s position in the Packers’ front office as Director of Football Operations.
For many, they are saddened or angered that Wolf has left. For those, he was their next great hope. For those I wonder if they were clouded by the shadow his father Ron has cast over Green Bay. Were those advocating for Wolf to succeed Thompson viewing Eliot by his own merits, or were they simply trying to catch Wolf lightning in a bottle a second time? Yes, he learned under one of the greatest masters of them all, but he is not is father, and this isn’t the 1996 Green Bay Packers that the team is trying to create.
Now I’m not saying Eliot Wolf is any slouch by any stretch of the imagination. He has climbed the ranks because he knew his football. He has an amazing eye for this type of stuff. And I have no question that he will be integral in reconstructing the perennially awful Cleveland Browns.
But some times it great to prosper outside someone else’s shadow. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t so lucky in his first few years. He was–and sometimes still is–measured against his predecessor Brett Favre. Those first few years were brutal, complete with expletives spewed forth by kindergarteners. If the preschool set was that critical, no doubt every adult in Green Bay was worse.
Part of me is glad Wolf is getting the opportunity to step out from his father’s shadow. In Cleveland he’ll get the opportunity to make a huge impact with Dorsey. And the metric there will always be measured by a different stick. At first it will be the simple gauge: can the Browns win games?
In Green Bay each dip into free agency would be compared to the brilliance of his father’s decisions to bring in Brett Favre and Reggie White. Would he be expected to win a Super Bowl right out of the gate? His father had an amazing tenure in Green Bay, one that earned him a bust in Canton. Had Eliot been selected to be GM in Green Bay, would every decision be measured against the Ron Wolf gold standard? What would happen if he didn’t catch that lightning in a bottle? What if there were no true free agency superstars just waiting to fall in his lap, or what if his blue chip first round draft choice was actually a bust?
How long would it be before those calling for his head start uttering the words, “Well, he’s no Ron Wolf.”?
For that reason alone, it is likely best for Eliot’s career to take that next step out of 1265 Lombardi. Let his success and failures be measured by reality, not the glory days from 20 years ago.
Like John Schneider who also blossomed in the Green Bay administration, it is not possible to retain every internal golden child. But if you step back and take a more pragmatic look at this, hopefully we will see Eliot Wolf’s endeavors come to fruition in Cleveland and perhaps they will shift from being the butt of NFL jokes and rise from the ashes.
Eliot Wolf is still very young. At 35, he has a whole lifetime of football administration ahead of him. Who knows, the Green Bay Packers may not have seen the last of him.--------------