By Austin Stallings
Carolina’s latest front office shuffle sent its most successful GM in franchise history packing. As disgruntled former players weigh in, it’s become apparent the Panthers are valuing their founder’s core convictions over direct success. Now he just needs to come out and say it.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or partaking in an offseason media cleanse, you’ve no doubt heard this week’s big ticket news item that cued a shockwave across the NFL world.
Panthers Owner/Founder Jerry Richardson announced on Monday that Dave Gettleman, one of the most successful GM’s of the past decade (and 2015 NFL Executive of the Year), was being relieved of his duties after 4 seasons with Carolina. Eight days before the start of the team’s training camp in Spartanburg.
You’ve also since heard that former Panthers GM Marty Hurney (one of only three men to hold the position) was quickly selected to head up the operation once again in the interim.
In the days after, countless articles have cluttered the echo chamber that is internet-age sports media, as analysts and bloggers alike have attempted to make sense of the Panthers’ latest front office shuffle. All gasping for air in a crowded space, these mostly-clumsy articles have tried to convince you exactly why the abrupt decision was made, and even more that the intuitive writer has seen it coming for quite some time. But really, nobody did.
Alas — The undying need to be “the” analyst who was ahead of the curve, and the phenomena known as groupthink — work together in unison to fuel this collection of “finger on the pulse” media members who rush to justify a move that truly nobody saw coming. Oddly enough, the past year has brought us exactly zero stories about tension in the Panthers front office.
What has become apparent though — now more than ever — is that, in what may be Jerry Richardson’s final years, the franchise founder is returning to his core principles of business, which have always been to create a family atmosphere around his team.
Bringing Gettleman to Charlotte for the implicit purpose of offering a more analytical approach to the front office, and later dismissing him for seemingly the same reason — suggests that Richardson has undergone a second change of heart, and that at some point he was no longer able to stomach Gettleman’s rigid management style that landed him the job in the first place.
Not much else, short of a closed-door altercation, could explain his abrupt decision to dismiss easily his most successful GM in franchise history. One who immediately navigated his team from the doldrums of salary cap hell, straight to the height of it’s existence as a franchise — changing the city’s culture in the process.
That Jerry Richardson is exercising his right to operate his business in line with his core convictions, is admirable no doubt. But so too is the fact that Dave Gettleman was ushered out the same way he was brought in, doing it his way — and being good at it.
You’ve now seen the flurry of articles this week about Jerry Richardson bringing back that warm family feeling to his organization, echoed by the satisfied cheers of several former players whom were all shown the door by Gettleman.
While many fans immediately took to social media to back the elation of their past heroes, I’d ask if they truly believe this latest move was made in their best interest. After all, Richardson’s own handwritten message (outwardly posted in every corner of the stadium), contends that the “fan is the most valuable member of his team.”
After firing the GM who brought a feeling of stability to his franchise that it’s never seen before, that’s a harder to convince me of than ever. The fact that the move was made two months after letting former assistant GM Brandon Beane leave to take the head job in Buffalo, only adds to the frustration.
Yes, Jerry Richardson is the man responsible for bringing the NFL to the Carolinas in the first place, and should be afforded every right to operate his franchise in line with the family-first convictions that he identifies with. In fact, he should be respected for it. But today as he sits in his office on Mint Street, overlooking the stadium that his fans funded, he owes it to those very same fans to come out and say that.
While Dave Gettleman’s management style has been in question all week, he did provide those fans with the most memorable four year stretch in franchise history, and it’s not even really close. Only four teams — the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, and Green Bay Packers accumulated more playoff wins during his tenure — bringing the oft-forgotten Panthers to the forefront of becoming an internationally recognized brand.
If you want to debate if Gettleman was the right man for the job, for this city, and for this organization — I’ll have that conversation with you. But do you know who is absolutely not fit to run a complex NFL organization? Josh Norman, DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith, and Mike Tolbert, to start.
In the coming months, interim GM Marty Hurney will be tasked with shuffling the roster all throughout training camp, staring down the barrel of impending major contracts such as Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen, and governing the many roster moves that take shape during regular season play — which Gettleman proved to have great success with. I’m sure Hurney is not the same man he was five years ago when he was shown the door after several ill-advised contracts, but he’ll have his hands full as he attempts to return a 6-win team to Super Bowl glory.