Tom Sorensen

You’ll miss fired Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman more than you think

Talked to a Carolina Panthers’ source as the team ascended to the top of the NFC South. In other words, before last season. The man told me that, more than anybody in the organization, general manager Dave Gettleman was responsible for the team’s success.

On Monday Gettleman was fired.

What changed?

Many players resented Gettleman. Not all of them, certainly. But when something happens to one player, there is a sense it could happen to them all.

We know about the publicized and messy departures of the stars. See you Steve Smith, see you Josh Norman and see you DeAngelo Williams. There also was a departure that was as least as significant – left tackle Jordan Gross.

Gross was asked to take a cut in pay by the new general manager before the 2013 season. Gross did not see it coming and reluctantly accepted it. He got revenge, surprising his employer when he retired before the 2014 season. Gross was one of the best left tackles in the league, a teacher, and a teammate; you’d see him at camp helping linemen who almost no chance to make the team.

Had he not been asked to take the pay cut, he almost certainly would have returned for one more season, and would have made an enormous difference.

So, when you add up the evidence, when you add Gross to Smith and Norman to Williams, Gettleman must be what, obnoxious, too tough, a bad guy?

Does anybody believe that Carolina owner Jerry Richardson woke up the morning after a Gettleman move, picked up his Observer (he subscribes), saw the headlines and said:

“Whoa, you mean to tell me Jordan Gross agreed to restructure his contract? Steve Smith is leaving? We’re not keeping Josh Norman? Why wasn’t I told of this?”

(The DeAngelo Williams departure was different.)

Richardson is aware of and part of every major decision his team makes. He doesn’t instigate it, necessary. But he’s aware of it. He played the game, he owns the team and it’s absurd to believe that Gettleman made moves the owner didn’t know about.

Like Richardson, Gettleman is a football lifer. I can envision Gettleman in his very cool Charlotte home or his office at Bank of America Stadium. It’s 3 a.m., and everything is dark but the screen on his TV. He uses the light to make notes about the player he’s studying, hits rewind and watches the video again.

I read and heard in a couple places that Gettleman was fired because he allowed his ego to get in the way. What ego? He wears baggy shorts with his shirt tucked in – in public – and he drives a van.

I never heard him say, “Hey, look what I did.” When he got it right, there’d be a smile. The message was: We. We added talent. We retained our core players. We are going to win.

Gettleman regularly praised his Carolina predecessor, Marty Hurney. There was no ego. There was confidence. There was a football guy.

Gettleman and I talked once about a Panther whose contract was about to expire. Gettleman said he wanted to retain the player. Then he named the players whose contracts would expire the following season and the season after that. If we overpay now, he said, we struggle to retain the players we’ll need in the future. He talked about the budgets with which we deal at home.

He turned what had been an interesting salary cap discussion into a boring story about a household budget. But, yeah, he was right.

The timing of Gettleman’s firing is terrible for the GM and for his employer. If the Panthers knew this was coming, the No. 2 personnel man in the organization, Brandon Beane, would not be in Buffalo.

Some of the speculation is silly. But we do know that linebacker Thomas Davis, with whom Richardson is extremely close, wants an extension. Tight end Greg Olsen, who signed a contract two years ago, wants a better one. He and Richardson also are close. Can you imagine this team without them?

Don’t blame (or credit) Davis or Olsen for Gettleman’s departure. What did they do wrong? They want to be paid. We’re like that, we humans.

Gettleman is honest and effective, a grinder and a good man. I’ll miss the guy.

If you’re a fan of the Panthers, you should, too.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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