CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One of Dave Gettleman’s favorite sayings during his four seasons as the general manager of the Carolina Panthers was that the complete truth about personnel decisions typically doesn’t come out for several years.
If at all.
That may be the case with Monday’s firing of Gettleman. Team owner Jerry Richardson made the decision, and Richardson doesn’t typically offer explanations — at least publicly.
Remember, he sent his two sons packing from the organization in 2009 with an explanation that was as vague as his reason for parting with Gettleman.
But what we know is that Gettleman did what he was hired to do in 2013. He made tough decisions to get the Panthers out of the salary-cap hell he inherited from former general manager Marty Hurney and helped a team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2008 to three straight NFC South titles.
And, oh, a trip to Super Bowl 50.
He moved the team forward.
Now there are reports that Richardson could hire Hurney to be the interim general manager. Could a step back in time be a step backward for the organization?
Gettleman is a man of conviction. He ticked players off with tough personnel decisions. At the top of the list are former Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith and running back DeAngelo Williams, both released by Gettleman.
Both also got huge contracts from Hurney.
Gettleman also alienated cornerback Josh Norman when he rescinded his franchise tag following the 2015 Super Bowl season. Hurney, by the way, drafted Norman as a little-known cornerback out of Coastal Carolina.
The glee with which all three players reacted to Gettleman’s firing said it all.
But one of Gettleman’s strengths is he didn’t take things personally. He always said life was too short to hold grudges and get mad. He said it was a waste of time.
“As I’ve stated many times, all decisions I make will be in the long-term best interest of the Carolina Panthers,” Gettleman said after releasing Smith following the 2013 season. “Decisions, either popular or unpopular, have to be made for the greater good, and it is imperative to take an unemotional global view.
“When Mr. [Jerry] Richardson hired me, I promised him that my goal would be to leave the Panthers in a better position than when I came. All my efforts are in that vein.
They are $17 million under the salary cap, $33 million ahead of where they were when Hurney was fired during the 2012 season.
Hurney, as I’ve written before, was the good cop. He was loyal to a fault. He rewarded veteran players with big contracts to keep the core together. None was bigger than the six-year, $76 million deal he gave defensive end Charles Johnson that was highly criticized at the time.
Gettleman was the bad cop. He’s the one who restructured Johnson’s contract in 2014 and released him in 2016 before re-signing him for pennies on the dollar.
He’s the one who cut ties with Smith and Williams, not just for salary-cap reasons but to build a culture he felt was conducive to winning.
He ran the organization known for having a great family atmosphere more like a business.
Hurney rewarded players like family members.
“When I went there as a rookie, that’s all everybody told me about, that it’s a real family organization ’cause that’s how Jerry Richardson runs it,” defensive end Greg Hardy once told me before his 2014 domestic violence charge ended his career with the Panthers.
“Gettleman coming in with a money-first attitude ticked everybody off, man. So he kind of changed the face of the organization to: It is a business, and once business is settled we can be a family.”
Family is extremely important to Richardson, who turned 81 on Tuesday. He let Gettleman make the tough decisions on family members Smith and Williams. He let Gettleman rescind the franchise offer on Norman, allowing the cornerback and South Carolina native to move to Washington after a Pro Bowl year.
According to those close to the situation, Richardson wasn’t willing to let Gettleman make the tough decision on whether to extend the contract of 34-year-old linebacker Thomas Davis and 31-year-old tight end Greg Olsen.
He wasn’t willing to go into the season with two of his team captains, two of the most respected members of the organization, disgruntled.
So bringing back an old family member like Hurney shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the Panthers reunited with defensive end Julius Peppers during the offseason.
Davis, 34, told a Charlotte television station Tuesday it was unfair to blame Gettleman’s firing on the way Gettleman has handled negotiations with him, Olsen and former older vets. He said negotiations already had begun with him.
But Gettleman does have a history of taking a hard line with older veterans. It began with offensive tackle Jordan Gross, who reworked his deal to help lessen Carolina’s cap strain in 2013 and then retired when Gettleman wouldn’t extend him.
That created an awkward but funny moment at Gross’ retirement news conference. While thanking everyone who played a role in his 11-year career, he looked at Gettleman and said, “I didn’t like you very much last offseason, but I got over that.”
Gettleman is a self-proclaimed “grinder,” but he isn’t heartless. Tackle Michael Oher, who has been in the concussion protocol, made that clear Tuesday with his Instagram post.
Oher is expected to report to training camp, but whether he remains a part of the team is uncertain. One thing we know: Gettleman would have done what he believed to be in the best interest of the Panthers in that situation as well.
“Sometimes other people in the organization don’t agree with you and you have to hold your ground, and he’s always been able to do that,” former NFL executive Ernie Accorsi, who recommended Gettleman to Richardson in 2013, told ESPN.com two years ago during Carolina’s run to Super Bowl 50.
“A lot of people, if they get into a disagreement with a scout or their boss, it becomes somehow antagonistic. Never with Dave.”
Now Gettleman is gone.
And it may be Hurney’s chance to try again.