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Ron Wolf’s mentoring tree is starting to look like a grove.
The former Green Bay Packers general manager, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year, has groomed five current NFL general managers, three of whom – the Raiders’ Reggie McKenzie, the Chiefs’ John Dorsey and the Seahawks’ John Schneider – have their teams in this season’s playoffs. Two others, Green Bay’s Ted Thompson and Washington’s Scot McCloughan, also have a chance at the postseason.
Wolf’s general manager offshoots could grow to six if the 49ers, as expected, part ways with Trent Baalke next week. Here’s a list of possible GM candidates heading into the offseason:
Chris Ballard, Kansas City
Ballard interviewed for the Bears general manager opening after the 2014 season and the Titans job a year ago. He joined the Chiefs in 2013 and has worked under Dorsey, a Wolf disciple who spent 21 seasons in the Packers scouting department. Ballard played wide receiver at Wisconsin, which means he likely has insight into a position the 49ers have struggled to draft since the late 1990s.
Trey Brown, Eagles
The former UCLA cornerback spent three seasons on the Patriots scouting staff and the last three with the Eagles. He was promoted to director of college scouting this year. Brown only is 31, but he's seen as a rising figure in scouting circles. That he appeared in this Microsoft tablet commercial likely doesn't hurt his chances with tech-oriented Jed York and Paraag Marathe.
Nick Caserio, New England
He presumably has an eye for pass catchers having served as the team’s wide receivers coach in 2007. Tom Brady threw 50 touchdown passes that year, Randy Moss was named a first-team All-Pro and the Patriots narrowly lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl. He returned to scouting the following year and is now the director of player personnel, the top spot in the Patriots’ scouting department but one that plays second fiddle to coach Bill Belichick when it comes to the final say on personnel. Caserio is extremely interesting in that he could bring offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (a teammates of Caserio’s at John Carroll University in the late 1990s). In addition, he has close ties to Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who may be available in a trade, and with former New England linebacker Mike Vrabel, whom the 49ers interviewed for defensive coordinator last year. The downside: McDaniels might not be available until February and Caserio has been a hot name for years and has remained in New England.
Trent Kirchner, Seahawks
He’s second in command in Seattle’s scouting department, meaning the 49ers would be pulling a double whammy with his hire – they’d be adding a sharp football mind and robbing their division rivals of one. Kirchner didn’t work under Wolf but has been with Wolf protégé Schneider since 2010. If hired, he could eye offensive line coach – and ex-Raiders head coach – Tom Cable and former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley as a head coach-defensive coordinator combination.
George Paton, Vikings
Like Caserio, Paton is not part of the Wolf tree. He instead has followed Rick Spielman from Chicago to Miami to Minnesota, where Spielman is the general manager and Paton has the title of assistant general manager. He has drawn strong interest during recent hiring cycles but decided to stay with the Vikings.
Eliot Wolf, Packers
No apple is closer to the Wolf tree than his son, Eliot, who has worked for the Packers since 2004 and who was promoted to director of football operations in March. Thompson, the current general manager in Green Bay, turns 64 next month and has been slowed by unspecified health issues in the past. There’s a sense that Wolf, 34, is the heir apparent with the same team with which his father spent 11 seasons.