Scott Fowler

As new Giants GM, Gettleman offers hints as to what went wrong with Panthers

In his first news conference as the new general manager for the New York Giants Friday, Dave Gettleman danced around questions about why he was fired in Carolina in July, but he did offer a few backhanded hints at what went wrong.

When asked directly why he was fired, Gettleman said: “As far as what happened there, give Mr. Richardson a call.”

As Gettleman well knows, that won’t work (I did try, though). Besides the fact that the 81-year-old Panthers owner has held exactly one news conference in the past 13 years and likely will never have another, Richardson has also announced plans to sell the team and is currently the subject of a high-profile NFL investigation about his alleged workplace misconduct toward women and minorities.

But as the Observer has previously reported, Gettleman’s hard-line stance on proposed contract renegotiations in the summer of 2017 for two already-signed Panthers veterans who have long been Richardson favorites– linebacker Thomas Davis and tight end Greg Olsen – certainly did play a part in Gettleman’s firing.

Gettleman did not talk about either player by name Friday at the Giants’ news conference, but he did say this in his first public comments since he was fired nearly six months ago: “Really and truly, players don’t want to hear the value you put on them because it hurts their feelings, OK? They’re sad.”

Gettleman also said about contract renegotiations for veteran players: “This is a big-boy league. You’ve got to put your big-boy pants on now. Nobody feels sorry for you. Nobody cares about your injuries. Nobody cares about what you make, what you don’t make. So I’ve learned you have to be consistent. You’ve got to be fair. And if the player is upset, so be it.”

Familiar words, new team

Richardson replaced Gettleman with Marty Hurney as his interim GM in July, issuing a vague statement that included the phrase: “While the timing of this decision is not ideal, a change is needed.” Hurney quickly gave Davis a contract extension and sweetened Olsen’s deal with contract incentives (although Olsen won’t meet most of them this year because of a foot injury).

Gettleman, 66, takes over a terrible New York Giants team that has gone 2-13 this season – easily the worst record in the NFC. I will be shocked if Gettleman doesn’t turn things around, however. He certainly had some misfires in Carolina but overall is a superb talent evaluator -- his Panthers teams went 40-23-1 and won three NFC South titles in four years.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman (left) and owner Jerry Richardson in June 2017. Gettleman’s four Panthers teams went 40-23-1 and made it to the playoffs three times and the Super Bowl once before Richardson fired him. Davie Hinshaw

Much of what Gettleman said Friday would be familiar to Panthers fans. He talked about the importance of fixing New York’s offensive line; about how “big men allow you to compete”; about his love of “hog mollies.” He talked about his love for his family, for “brutal honesty” between colleagues and for watching film. He asked reporters’ names so he could start learning them. He played with a water bottle, once fumbling it off the podium. He veered off script in entertaining ways, once singing a line from the musical “The King and I” to illustrate how he and Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham needed to have a “Getting to Know You” session.

‘I’ll make the tough decisions’

Gettleman also wore one of his Super Bowl rings as a flashy reminder of his previous success, just as he did for his opening news conference at Carolina in January 2013. He said he had to “see what’s cooking” before making definitive decisions at every position for the Giants, including quarterback and two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning (although Gettleman generally sounded positive about starting Manning in 2018).

“I’ll make the tough decisions and I’ll stand by them,” said Gettleman, who during his tenure at Carolina parted ways with both the team’s leading all-time receiver (Steve Smith) and its leading all-time rusher at the time (DeAngelo Williams). Neither player took it well. Gettleman also let cornerback Josh Norman walk while at Carolina because of a money dispute -- that, I thought, was his biggest mistake in Charlotte, and helped set the Panthers up for failure in 2016 when they started two rookie cornerbacks.

Since Hurney replaced Gettleman, he has been acting very much like a permanent GM for Carolina. In his most controversial move – but one that has worked out well statistically – Hurney traded wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin away. Benjamin was one of Gettleman’s No. 1 draft picks. As I have written before, the new Panthers owner should retain both coach Ron Rivera and Hurney – who in his first go-around as Panthers GM drafted quarterback Cam Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly and also traded for Olsen.

Dave Gettleman used many of the same phrases in his first press conference with the New York Giants Friday as he did during his four-year tenure with the Carolina Panthers. Davie Hinshaw

The Giants will play Carolina next season, and it’s possible Gettleman will have hired Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks as the New York head coach by then.

Gettleman wouldn’t address who his candidates would be for the vacant Giants head-coaching job, but multiple reports have floated that idea and Wilks certainly appears to be ready for such a position. His blitz-happy scheme has often been effective this season for Carolina, and I don’t think the New York media would fluster him. Cam Newton’s nickname for Wilks is “Denzel” – a nod to the actor Denzel Washington and the way that the charismatic Wilks can command a room when he wants to.

As for how long he wants to keep the second GM job of his career, Gettleman said he wasn’t merely a caretaker of the Giants position.

“My plan is to come in here every day and kick ass,” he said. “That’s my plan, OK? And I’m going to keep doing it until they either take my key card or the Lord calls me home.”

Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140, @scott_fowler