The championship ring has come out of the box just twice in Dave Gettleman’s three seasons as Carolina Panthers general manager.
The first time was at his introductory news conference, “just to remind you guys I had a little experience,” Gettleman joked with Charlotte media.
The other time was this week. That bauble from the New York Giants’ 2011 championship season is Gettleman’s subtle reminder to players and coaches to envision greatness.
It took three decades for Gettleman, 64, to reach the top of his profession. Rather than gripe about how long it took him to be hired as a general manager, he said Monday it’s a blessing. The collection of knowledge working for the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos and Giants taught him both how to evaluate football in great detail and how to treat people right.
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“It’s all about an accumulation of experiences. Would this have happened if I got my first GM job at 20-some years old? I don’t know,” Gettleman said.
“I’m drawing on 30 years of experience and I’ve had great teachers – Ernie Accorsi and Bill Polian and Mike Shanahan and Bob Ferguson.”
One of those experiences – getting fired in Buffalo along with dozens of others when Marv Levy took over as coach – left a major impression. Gettleman doesn’t resent what Levy did – heck, Levy got the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls – but years and years later he remembered how that displaced so many families.
So when he got his chance with the Panthers, he kept an open mind to everyone on the staff from obscure scouts to coach Ron Rivera. Rivera preceded him in the organization by two years. They had to learn if they could thrive together and that was priority No. 1.
Gettleman has a way with words. Like Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, he doesn’t do a lot of interviews, but when he does speak it’s candid and vivid.
“We had a blind date the day after I signed the contract,” Gettleman recalled of his meeting with Rivera. “We talked like adults. It was never important to me to have ‘my people.’ It was important to me to win.
“Continuity is critical. Now, you have to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, but Mr. Richardson made the decision to hold ’em and it was the right decision.”
Total candor with Rivera
Gettleman says his relationship with Rivera is excellent because it’s about total candor. Rivera said that didn’t take long to establish.
“Dave said early on, ‘I’d like to get the point where we can be very up-front, where you can trust my decisions and my conversations and I want to be the same way with you,’” Rivera said Tuesday. “We got to a point where, when we walk through those doors, it’s our (joint) decision.”
Three division titles and a Super Bowl berth later, it’s clearly working. Gettleman’s pet peeve in the NFL is change for change’s sake. He’s not saying a team never has to start over. Rather, he’s saying the time that is wasted churning coaching staffs every couple of years is silly.
“You can’t just come in and blow things up. If you fire someone, how much time is it going to take to train the next guy?” Gettleman asked. “It’s not going to happen overnight. So that time you took to get the next guy ready? You lose four, five, six months.”
Not to mention all the tumble-down effect on a team’s roster.
“More often than not, the (new coach) is going to come in with his offense and defense. Can you fit the guys on your roster?” he asked. “The lack of patience (is troubling) – the number of guys who get fired in one or two years.”
That is not to say Gettleman failed to put his stamp on the organization. He emphasized more deep-drill research and that has paid off in recent in-season moves. Trading for pass-rusher Jared Allen and signing street free agents Cortland Finnegan and Robert McClain patched worrisome holes caused by injuries.
But again this is about detail and patience, and that might be a function of being around the NFL for so long.
Gettleman is particularly proud of guys such as wide receiver Corey Brown and offensive linemen Andrew Norwell and Mike Remmers, who took time to develop. Gettleman believes you have to place a player’s resume from college in context with the limitations of college football.
“It’s understanding that the average college player is just not fundamentally sound, so you have to look at them differently,” Gettleman said. “For example, you’re evaluating a linebacker, and he doesn’t know how to use his hands well, so you knock his grade down a bit. But did anyone ever teach him (that skill)? We don’t know.
“The colleges have that 20-hour rule (maximum time coaches can interact with players weekly). It hurts their ability (to teach).”
Ability to get better
And that doesn’t just apply to the bit players. Gettleman chuckles now at how many wrote off quarterback Cam Newton, expected to be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player on Saturday night.
“I had a veteran sports writer come in and start banging on Cam. I said, ‘How long have you done this?’ He said 20 years,” Gettleman recalled.
“‘Then tell me how many articles you wrote your first two years that you’re proud of?’ It’s no different (in quarterbacking). He’s got to get better at what he does and I’ve got to get better at what I do. That’s just the way it is.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell