Nine days before the team reports to training camp, the Carolina Panthers fired GM Dave Gettleman. For many, it was a shocking development in an offseason that saw other top GMs meet the same fate. But as former players took to social media last week to share some … less than positive reviews of Gettleman, it started to seem that this move wasn’t out of left field. On Wednesday’s episode of GM Street, Michael Lombardi and Tate Frazier examine the reasons behind Gettleman’s firing and break down his tenure as a whole in Carolina.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Tate Frazier: The Panthers have been on a winning streak since about 2013, since [former GM Dave Gettleman] took over for Marty Hurney. Gettleman gets canned [nine] days before camp opens. [What’s your] initial reaction to that news?
Michael Lombardi: Yeah, well, I think what happened is, Gettleman’s getting ready to come back to Charlotte to spend time working on some contracts, and Jerry Richardson informs him that he’s no longer needed. And I think on the surface when you look at it, this is a classic example of an organization that — regardless of the win-loss totals, regardless of the talent level that got increased, regardless of the style that he built with the football team — this team really wanted to go back to its old ways, and they weren’t going to embrace [how] Gettleman saw football being operated. I think that’s what cost him his job. Gettleman believes that there are certain positions that are worth X amount of dollars. He feels other positions aren’t worth as much, and he was going to manage his cap predicated on that.
Frazier: So let’s just take a big-picture look at Dave Gettleman’s tenure there. He comes to the Panthers and he has all these guys that are already aligned: Cam Newton’s already there; Luke Kuechly’s already there; Thomas Davis is already there; Greg Olsen is already there. Obviously people remember [Josh] Norman’s exit last year. People remember when Steve Smith left in 2014. People remember DeAngelo Williams. But I think the biggest [issue] that has really been under the radar was the whole Jordan Gross situation. For people that aren’t familiar with that, Jordan Gross was a left tackle for the Panthers. He had been there for a long time. People loved him in the community. Gettleman comes in and restructures his contract in 2013, and Jordan Gross isn’t very happy about that. He ends up retiring in 2014, which [hurts] the team, and sort of hurts Gettleman. And that was one of the first little feelers into the fact that maybe Gettleman and the Panthers organization weren’t quite in line with their thinking. And then, this summer it’s come out that Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen are … expecting contract extensions, and Gettleman — from what we’ve heard — may not have been on the same side as those guys. And now he’s out. This is one of the first times I’ve seen players really seem to have an impact on the front office. … Is that a rare thing to see, or is this something that happens and it’s just being talked about more than usual?
Lombardi: No, I think the root of his firing has to be the players. Gettleman [originally] got the job because Marty Hurney’s cap situation was atrocious. When you have to clean up a cap mess, you have to tell some players "no." Look, if you want to be a GM of an NFL team, you can’t expect the players to like you. You don’t go in the locker room, you don’t walk around the players. You control the money, and therefore, there has to be a separation of church and state. … I think what Gettleman tried to do is come in and pay really close attention to rebuilding the football team in his way. And unfortunately I don’t think that was the way of Jerry Richardson. I think Jerry Richardson [prefers] the players to be happy. Look, Marty Hurney gave lot of money away. Marty Hurney was very generous as the general manager. … I think you always have to look at the guy who replaces the person who got fired. It doesn’t necessarily mean there was a takeover or a coup, or some kind of conspiracy, but the style of the person that takes over.
Frazier: And Marty Hurney, for people that don’t realize this — he was the Carolina Panthers GM from 2002 all the way up until October 2012 before Gettleman took over. I just want to know, from your perspective, I mean, Jerry Richardson has to know what Dave Gettleman is up to. Gettleman’s not doing all these things and then Jerry Richardson is finding out about it in a vacuum. Jerry Richardson is very involved. … So a lot of people are trying to pinpoint exactly what happened for him to go full 180 on Gettleman. … And there was an interesting thing that Mike Tolbert put out on Instagram. He had a picture of Trai Turner and other guys looking for a new contract — Greg Olsen, Thomas Davis — and the quote he put was, "#determinedNOTdeteriorated." And there was a lot of hoopla made that apparently Gettleman was saying that Thomas Davis was deteriorated as a player, and doesn’t have the same value, and Richardson didn’t take too kindly to his guy Thomas Davis being talked about like that, and that’s [part of] what led to the Gettleman firing. So there’s just all that behind-the-scenes stuff. It just seems like over the past two years, ever since the Super Bowl, there’s been a lot of drama behind the scenes in Carolina, and now it seems to be cleared up.
Lombardi: I think what happens is Gettleman didn’t have the owner buying in. Typically, the way ownership should run is: [The GM’s] running the team. I’m letting him run the team. It was hard for [Patriots owner] Robert Kraft to lose Vince Wilfork. He loved him as a player. He adored him. But he’s given [Patriots coach Bill] Belichick the autonomy to run the team, and Bill felt it was in their best interest was to make a contract that was worthwhile to the Patriots, and Vince didn’t want to take it. And I think [Kraft] gives [Belichick] that authority, and once Kraft steps over that authority … there’s dissension within the ranks. You have to add another layer into this, too: Ron Rivera. Ron Rivera was hired by Marty Hurney.
Tate: Yup. Exactly.
Lombardi: Hurney hired Rivera, then Hurney gets fired and Rivera has to adapt to what Gettleman wants to do, which is the [New York] Giants’ way of doing business — size and speed, rewarding certain positions based on the ratings and based on the rankings, and trying to get the team younger and not overpaying for certain things. Now he’s got Hurney back. So I think really what you’re seeing is that the Panthers and Jerry Richardson liked it the way it was before. I wouldn’t be surprised if they removed the interim tag from Marty Hurney. I think Hurney will end up getting an Olsen contract done. He’ll get Thomas Davis a contract. I believe they’ll go through the procedures of looking for somebody else … but at the end of the day, I think Jerry Richardson really likes Marty Hurney. I think he likes the way he treats the players, and that’s important to him. Do I think they’re going to continue to win and continue to get good players? I’m not sure of that, because I think Dave Gettleman was really good at his job.