Dave Gettleman had 27 years in the NFL before he got his first General Manager’s job, so he had a long list of contacts and people he trusts and guys he had thought about hiring one day.
But after he took over the Panthers in 2013, he didn’t hire anyone. Because he didn’t have any openings. Because he didn’t create any.
Not only did Gettleman not blow up the Panthers front office or scouting department or coaching staff, he didn’t fire a single person after getting the job he had always dreamed of — keeping the entire football operation he inherited from former G.M. Marty Hurney. It wasn’t that his new boss insisted he keep them, he had decided years before he wasn’t going to do business that way.
The 64-year-old Gettleman smiled when asked how hard it was to not put his stamp on his new team after so long searching for such a job, and he went back to his early days in the business, in 1986 when he was in Buffalo.
When then coach Hank Bullough had the team off to a 2-7 start, he was fired midseason, replaced by a guy named Marv Levy who would go onto four Super Bowls. But Levy cleaned house (which may have been necessary), and that made an imprint on Gettleman, then a lowly scouting intern.
“I said to myself, if I ever get one of these jobs, I’m determined to give everybody an opportunity,” Gettleman said. “I just believe everybody deserves a shot. Firing people ain’t easy, and when you fire a coach or a scout, you fire all their wives and kids too.”
Gettleman was only fired once, by the Bills in 1992, and moving on to four years with the Broncos. He joined the Giants in 1998, and that’s where he met Ernie Accorsi, who would later become the consultant who pointed Panthers owner Jerry Richardson Gettleman’s way.
Gettleman said that after getting the job, he met with everyone and discussed some “philosophical changes,” but those didn’t cost a single scout or coach or bean-counter or anyone in the football side a job. He took what he had, and worked with it. The payoff is this week, the seventh Super Bowl he’s been a part of.
And while the Panthers’ stability has certainly played a part in their success, it’s also far from the norm in the NFL. When he was hired, he’d have been justified blowing the place up and starting over. He did the opposite.
It’s one thing to come into a job and make only minor changes, but to make none requires dedication to a principle. For Gettleman, that principle goes beyond football.