The Carolina Panthers are cheating on their fans with this one.
The Panthers owe their fans a real explanation for owner Jerry Richardson’s latest foray into the unexplained and unbelievable – this one the firing of Dave Gettleman, the most successful general manager the team has ever had, on the eve of the Panthers’ 2017 training camp.
And “Because I said so” is not an explanation.
It’s an insult.
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The Panthers issued a “non-explanation” explanation of a press release Monday announcing Gettleman’s shocking departure.
“While the timing of this decision is not ideal, a change is needed,” it quotes Richardson, who will turn 81 on Tuesday, as saying.
And why would that change be needed exactly?
To me, all that is clear from this mess is that the Panthers front office is getting more dysfunctional by the day.
President Danny Morrison resigned in February under circumstances that have never been fully explained. Brandon Beane – the heir apparent to Gettleman and the guy who smoothed over a lot of Gettleman’s rough edges when it came time to deal with people instead of videotape – left Carolina in May to become Buffalo’s GM.
And now here’s Gettleman, driving his minivan out of town instead of to Spartanburg for camp.
Who’s running the show over on Mint Street, anyway?
The answer, of course, is Richardson.
Gettleman could be a hard man to work for, but you could say exactly the same thing about the man known as “Mister” – short for “Mister Richardson” – throughout Bank of America Stadium.
If Richardson were smart – and he is very smart – he would offer far more than the vague “a change is needed” cliché on this one.
Maybe he doesn’t want to hold a full-fledged press conference at age 81. I get that.
But if so, the Panthers need to issue a press release that goes into some sort of realistic detail about what just happened and what the plan is next.
Do something. Make the fans a part of things, instead of simply part of your checkbook.
‘Not for the faint of heart’
Look, Gettleman knew what he was getting into when he pursued and ultimately earned the Panthers GM job in January 2013. Richardson, the only owner the Panthers have ever had, had a very public estrangement with his own sons in 2009 that led to both sons resigning from the Panthers. That tells you something. The Panthers’ owner and founder also parted ways with his previous GM, Marty Hurney, once the team started 1-5 in 2012.
Gettleman, 61 and with one foot already out of the NFL personnel game with the New York Giants at that point, didn’t care about any of that.
He wanted to be a GM. He knew he would be a good one. And he was.
“My job is not for the faint of heart, OK?” Gettleman told me once. He knew that GMs, like head coaches and quarterbacks and every other well-paid and high-profile member of an NFL organization, have a limited shelf life.
When you don’t give a Carolina player such as linebacker Thomas Davis a contract extension right away when he wants one – and Davis might be Richardson’s all-time favorite player – you are not endearing yourself to your boss or to one of the veteran leaders who holds the most sway in the locker room. When Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen is kinda-sorta thinking about a training camp holdout, that’s not a good thing for the GM, either.
But for all the dancing on the figurative grave of Gettleman coming out in tweets from DeAngelo Williams and Steve Smith, let’s not forget this.
Gettleman wasn’t hired to be popular. Gettleman was hired to win.
And man, did he win.
Making ‘unpopular decisions’
The Panthers went 40-23-1 in Gettleman’s four seasons as GM. They won also three straight NFL South titles, were victorious in three playoff games and made it to one Super Bowl (which they lost in a season in which Gettleman still would be named the NFL Executive of the Year by The Sporting News).
Gettleman easily had the most successful batting average for a Panthers GM ever, and that includes Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Polian (counting only his time in Charlotte). All that, and Gettleman also locked up Cam Newton through 2020 and Luke Kuechly through 2021, and improved the salary-cap situation, too.
Yes, Gettleman could be abrupt. Yes, he fired or parted ways with some very well-known Panthers players and, in two big cases, did so too early.
“You have to have confidence in what you’re doing and your evaluation skills,” Gettleman said in a 2016 interview we had. “There are times I knew I was going to make unpopular decisions and I couldn’t let that concern me. It’s all about the greater good.”
I thought and wrote at the time that Gettleman shouldn’t have released Smith in 2014 when the best player the Panthers ever employed still had something left.
Rescinding the franchise tag in 2016 for cornerback Josh Norman was an even more significant mistake, because no NFL team in its right mind purposely lets go of a player at a key position in his prime. At the least, the Panthers could have kept Norman for one more year under the tag. That move made Norman rich in Washington and induced a domino effect that forced the Panthers to start two rookie cornerbacks and end up 6-10 the year after the Super Bowl.
On the other hand, I thought and continue to think Williams and linebacker Jon Beason were let go at exactly the right time. Gettleman’s draft picks, especially in the early rounds, were mostly solid and occasionally spectacular (Kawann Short). We will have to wait and see on Gettleman’s biggest contractual gamble of all – the five-year, $55.5-million contract he handed to left tackle Matt Kalil in March.
Are fans really MVPs?
Every GM is going to misfire. It’s the nature of the game.
Was this really all personnel-related? Or was it more relationship-driven? Did Richardson and Gettleman simply not get along anymore?
I think it’s a combination of all those things. But Richardson must tell Panthers fans more about this than he has.
Fans funded Bank of America Stadium, remember. They bought into Richardson’s dream. Richardson, in return, said once in a quote that has since been inscribed in many places in Panther-land: “The fan is the most valuable member of our team.”
Because it sure doesn’t feel like that right now.
Charging $5 for the formerly free Fan Fest was an error, but it pales in comparison to this.
Whatever they thought about Gettleman, Panthers fans deserve to be angry for the lack of information they are getting.
Right now, Panthers fans don’t seem valuable at all.
They seem like an afterthought.