MOBILE, Ala. For Dave Gettleman, its good to be king.
In one year since he was named general manager of the Carolina Panthers, Gettleman navigated a salary cap mess, made shrewd veteran contract restructures, signed several key free agents and oversaw a franchise that went to the playoffs for the first time in five years.
He did it all with no staff turnover, too. Gettleman, who was in the NFL for more than two decades before getting a general manager job, played the hand he was dealt, and it earned him and the Panthers a 12-4 record and an NFC South championship.
Gettleman sat down at the Senior Bowl for an hour-long interview with The Observers Jonathan Jones. In Part II of a three-part Q&A, he discusses what his first year as a general manager taught him, and what it feels like to finally have this opportunity.
Q. When you came in, you didnt fire anyone. Thats pretty uncommon for a new general manager. Why was it important for you to keep everyone?
A. When I was in Buffalo, my intern year (1986), Hank Bullough was let go (as coach) in November and Marv Levy was brought in. Its the business when youre the king of the castle, you have the right to hire and fire as you please. And Marv certainly had that right, and the postseason-history will tell you that he certainly made good moves and he was a good football coach.
But there were two or three coaches on that staff that were excellent coaches and they were released at the end of the year. And Ive always thought about that and over a period of years, watched what happened when people went in and saw as I was in the industry 10, 15, 20 years, I saw people come in and fire really good people. Not people that youre going to go out and socialize with, but quality evaluators and people who are very good at what they do. And I saw it happen over and over and over again. And I also saw how frequently it didnt work.
So I made up my mind that if I was ever king of the castle, everybody was going to get an opportunity to keep their position. And Ive never made anybody a promise. Ive told guys dont make promises you cant keep, because you hear stories all the time that, So and so told me he was going to get me a job, and it didnt happen. So I came in and did what I thought was the right thing.
We were collaborative. I listened, they listened, they adjusted, they were extremely supportive of me from the get-go, and they earned the right to keep their jobs.
Q. Was there any internal movement at all?
A. No. The only scout we added was (pro scout) Clyde Powers, because I wanted to add one more person, and I wanted to add an older, veteran scout.
Q. When the Panthers have had such a tattered recent history in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, a lot of people point the finger at (former general manager) Marty Hurney and the talent evaluators. What was the decision for you that these guys know what theyre doing?
A. I think the decision was going through the process: sitting in meetings, listening to them talk about players, watching film with them and going through the entire evaluation process.
Just like I told you guys (in Jan. 14 news conference), you dont know what goes on behind closed doors. You have no idea. And sometimes its five years down the road that you finally get all the facts and figure it out. So going through that process and seeing where we ended up with our draft board, and I believe that its been proven out.
AJ Klein was a fifth-round pick. He stepped in and we didnt miss a beat. Robert Lester, Melvin White and Wes Horton. There were times this year that we had six rookies on the field on defense. You only had five draft picks. You cant draft guys without picks. Ive done studies. We hit on those guys was a part of the scouts and the coaches working together, understanding what we need, what fits and how it all comes together.
You have to, as part of the process. You have to let people feel they have a piece of the action.
Q. What does it feel like to be the king of the castle?
A. Comfortable. Im having a lot of fun. Its obviously different because whats happening is, 25 years of watching people make decisions and sometimes not having the information even when youre in the organization, and piecing it together and you sit back and say, OK, what would I have done? Its constantly challenging yourself mentally, and then looking at decisions made by other teams.
When you step back and say why, and maybe over a period of time as you watch what goes on in that organization, you can kind of figure it out. Not always. But decisions that are curious for the outsider may not nearly be as curious for the insider.
But then five years down the road sometimes those decisions still look curious. Sometimes.
Q. Do you have any other thoughts on the San Francisco game?
A. The Gods honest truth is I have not had a chance to watch the film.
Q. What have you been doing?
A. Meeting with players. And its going to go for another 2-3 weeks. Just evaluating the team.
Like I said to our pro guys on Monday, shame on us if we dont know our team. The thing you have to be really careful about is getting emotional. You have to be objective and unemotional as you make your evaluations. So its really been about the team. ... I havent had a chance to look at the film of San Francisco. So I really dont have any more thoughts on it. Obviously youre disappointed.
Q. What was the most trying time, week, moment for you this year?
A. When that story came out. The thing that (ticked) me off the most? When that (NFL Network) story came out in Week 6 that we were (vetting future coaching candidates). Man was I (ticked). I was furious. Furious.
Q. Was it totally inaccurate?
A. Not even remotely close. That was one of those things, I mean that really (ticked) me off. Because I dont operate that way. Because what youre doing is, someone reporting that is questioning my integrity. So theyre questioning my integrity and, you know, give Ron a chance.
We live in such an instant-gratification society, its ridiculous. It is totally ridiculous. Nobody has any patience anymore. Everybody wants to be rewarded for getting up and breathing. Its silly. That isnt the way it is. ... It wasnt right. And it wasnt fair. And youll find out in time, a lot of me is about being fair.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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