MOBILE, Ala. — For Dave Gettleman, it’s good to be king.
In one year since he was named general manager of the Carolina Panthers, Gettleman navigated a salary cap mess, made shrewd veteran contract restructures, signed several key free agents and oversaw a franchise that went to the playoffs for the first time in five years.
He did it all with no staff turnover, too. Gettleman, who was in the NFL for more than two decades before getting a general manager job, played the hand he was dealt, and it earned him and the Panthers a 12-4 record and an NFC South championship.
Gettleman sat down at the Senior Bowl for an hour-long interview with The Observer’s Jonathan Jones. In Part II of a three-part Q&A, he discusses what his first year as a general manager taught him, and what it feels like to finally have this opportunity.
Q. When you came in, you didn’t fire anyone. That’s pretty uncommon for a new general manager. Why was it important for you to keep everyone?
A. When I was in Buffalo, my intern year (1986), Hank Bullough was let go (as coach) in November and Marv Levy was brought in. It’s the business when you’re the king of the castle, you have the right to hire and fire as you please. And Marv certainly had that right, and the postseason-history will tell you that he certainly made good moves and he was a good football coach.
But there were two or three coaches on that staff that were excellent coaches and they were released at the end of the year. And I’ve always thought about that and over a period of years, watched what happened when people went in and saw as I was in the industry 10, 15, 20 years, I saw people come in and fire really good people. Not people that you’re going to go out and socialize with, but quality evaluators and people who are very good at what they do. And I saw it happen over and over and over again. And I also saw how frequently it didn’t work.
So I made up my mind that if I was ever king of the castle, everybody was going to get an opportunity to keep their position. And I’ve never made anybody a promise. I’ve told guys don’t make promises you can’t keep, because you hear stories all the time that, ‘So and so told me he was going to get me a job,’ and it didn’t happen. So I came in and did what I thought was the right thing.
We were collaborative. I listened, they listened, they adjusted, they were extremely supportive of me from the get-go, and they earned the right to keep their jobs.
Q. Was there any internal movement at all?
A. No. The only scout we added was (pro scout) Clyde Powers, because I wanted to add one more person, and I wanted to add an older, veteran scout.
Q. When the Panthers have had such a tattered recent history in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, a lot of people point the finger at (former general manager) Marty Hurney and the talent evaluators. What was the decision for you that these guys know what they’re doing?
A. I think the decision was going through the process: sitting in meetings, listening to them talk about players, watching film with them and going through the entire evaluation process.
Just like I told you guys (in Jan. 14 news conference), you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. You have no idea. And sometimes it’s five years down the road that you finally get all the facts and figure it out. So going through that process and seeing where we ended up with our draft board, and I believe that it’s been proven out.
AJ Klein was a fifth-round pick. He stepped in and we didn’t miss a beat. Robert Lester, Melvin White and Wes Horton. There were times this year that we had six rookies on the field on defense. You only had five draft picks. You can’t draft guys without picks. I’ve done studies. We hit on those guys was a part of the scouts and the coaches working together, understanding what we need, what fits and how it all comes together.
You have to, as part of the process. You have to let people feel they have a piece of the action.
Q. What does it feel like to be the king of the castle?
A. Comfortable. I’m having a lot of fun. It’s obviously different because what’s happening is, 25 years of watching people make decisions and sometimes not having the information even when you’re in the organization, and piecing it together and you sit back and say, ‘OK, what would I have done?’ It’s constantly challenging yourself mentally, and then looking at decisions made by other teams.
When you step back and say why, and maybe over a period of time as you watch what goes on in that organization, you can kind of figure it out. Not always. But decisions that are curious for the outsider may not nearly be as curious for the insider.
But then five years down the road sometimes those decisions still look curious. Sometimes.
Q. Do you have any other thoughts on the San Francisco game?
A. The God’s honest truth is I have not had a chance to watch the film.
Q. What have you been doing?
A. Meeting with players. And it’s going to go for another 2-3 weeks. Just evaluating the team.
Like I said to our pro guys on Monday, shame on us if we don’t know our team. The thing you have to be really careful about is getting emotional. You have to be objective and unemotional as you make your evaluations. So it’s really been about the team. ... I haven’t had a chance to look at the film of San Francisco. So I really don’t have any more thoughts on it. Obviously you’re disappointed.
Q. What was the most trying time, week, moment for you this year?
A. When that story came out. The thing that (ticked) me off the most? When that (NFL Network) story came out in Week 6 that we were (vetting future coaching candidates). Man was I (ticked). I was furious. Furious.
Q. Was it totally inaccurate?
A. Not even remotely close. That was one of those things, I mean that really (ticked) me off. Because I don’t operate that way. Because what you’re doing is, someone reporting that is questioning my integrity. So they’re questioning my integrity and, you know, give Ron a chance.
We live in such an instant-gratification society, it’s ridiculous. It is totally ridiculous. Nobody has any patience anymore. Everybody wants to be rewarded for getting up and breathing. It’s silly. That isn’t the way it is. ... It wasn’t right. And it wasn’t fair. And you’ll find out in time, a lot of me is about being fair.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9