Fowler: Here's hoping Gettleman follows through on first impression

January 16, 2013 

New Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman is not from around here. He’s 61 years old. He basically demoted himself last year while with the New York Giants.

And you know what? He still makes a heck of a first impression.

Gettleman got his first minor victory Tuesday, as he “won” his introductory news conference at Bank of America Stadium. He came across as charming, smart and gruff. That won’t matter a bit in nine months when the Panthers open the 2013 season, though – by then, it will be Gettleman’s roster moves that will be helping the Panthers win or lose.

Wearing a Super Bowl ring he earned as part of the New York Giants organization, Gettleman showed a hard edge and a soft side. He got choked up while talking about his late mother-in-law – yes, his mother-in-law.

He talked about inclusion and about how every man can learn from every other man. But he also talked about the need for bluntness in the NFL, and about how important it is not to overpay players, and about his disdain for those who try to take credit for group decisions like the ones he hopes to make in Charlotte.

“At the end of the day, people are going to understand it’s not about who’s right; it’s about getting it right,” Gettleman said. “People want to thump their chests and say ‘I did this.’ Give me a break.”

Gettleman replaces Marty Hurney, who was the Panthers’ general manager during their three playoff appearances in the 2000s but who never could produce consecutive winning records. Team owner Jerry Richardson fired Hurney in October when Carolina got off to a 1-5 start.

Gettleman had been frustrated the year before when he hadn’t “gotten a sniff” at four open GM jobs in the league, despite the Giants’ Super Bowl victory after the 2011 season. He thought his age had worked against him.

“I just needed someone who was looking for an older, more mature guy,” he said. “That’s really what it came down to. Our culture is the next whiz-bang is the next great thing. … It was one of those deals where, ‘Oh, he’s an old dinosaur. He’s probably cranky.’ ”

Richardson, 76, didn’t mind hiring an older GM to work with Ron Rivera, whom he had decided on his own (and quite correctly) six days after the season to keep as head coach before he hired Gettleman.

Gettleman said he didn’t mind inheriting a coach, noting that Giants coach Tom Coughlin had been under “incredible heat” but was retained and later won two Super Bowls.

Said Gettleman: “I told Ron, ‘I don’t have a list of head coaches in my back pocket.’ I have no interest in that.”

Gettleman advanced through the NFL scouting ranks and feels most comfortable watching film in a darkened room, clicking his remote control and evaluating players.

His sense of humor and directness make him seem like a guy players would enjoy talking to when he’s recruiting them and front-office people would like to work alongside.

“I’m pretty simple, my wife will vouch for that,” said Gettleman, who was accompanied at the news conference by his wife and their three children. “I believe in faith, family and football. Those are my priorities. I’m called a grinder and I think that’s a compliment.”

He also made a joke about his bad breath. He was entertaining. I don’t want to overstate it – he was Dave Gettleman, not David Letterman – but there was far more laughter in that news conference than usual. Most of it came from Gettleman poking fun at himself.

First impressions can be suspect, of course. John Fox snowed me over in our first extended interview. He was hilarious. He was thoughtful. He was great. And then for the next nine years, he answered practically every one of my questions with a cliché and purposely became the most boring coach in football (although, to be fair, a pretty successful one).

Gettleman said “what you see is what you get” with him. I sure hope that’s true. He’s getting an opportunity for his dream job at a time when many are thinking about retirement, which not a lot of us can say.

“The bottom line is it’s all about the person doing the hiring,” Gettleman said. “It’s all about the fit.”

On Tuesday, at least, it seemed like a good fit. Even when Gettleman said the Panthers played “hahd” for Rivera in the last half of the season, you knew what he meant.

Where we’ll really find out about Gettleman is when he grinds through a couple of drafts and free-agency periods. He’s got to dig the Panthers out of a $16 million salary cap hole. Then he’s got to find Rivera some more players – and he’s going to have to find some of them at bargain prices.

“Roster building is a fluid, liquid situation,” he said. “And you have to understand if you aren’t improving the bottom end of your roster, you’re not improving.”

He also said he wanted the Panthers to “raise their own” players much like former GM Marty (Gettleman called him “Mahty”) Hurney did, drafting well and then keeping the best.

What he is interested in is his legacy, personally and professionally. Gettleman referenced the word “legacy” several times, saying at his age he owed it to himself to think about that.

He wants that legacy to include a winner in Charlotte. He told Rivera Thursday when they had breakfast together: “If we do this right, you and I are holding up the trophy with Mr. Richardson.”

It was a nice quote. Now comes the “hahd” part – making it happen.

Fowler:; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler

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