A Long Look at Carolina Panthers General Manager David Gettleman


As most fans of the Carolina Panthers know, General Manager Marty Hurney was let go well before the 2013 draft and David Gettleman was hired to take the reigns as the “top man” in the organization as far as personnel decisions go. So far, his hands tied by the salary cap mess that Hurney left behind, Gettleman has made some shrewd, low-cost moves to do what he can to improve the team – especially the depth.

I got to thinking “what makes Gettleman tick?” before the New York Giants game on Sept. 21st since Gettleman spent a number of years with that organization so I (and my editor) decided I should take a deeper look into his resume’. With the Panthers off to a patented Ron Rivera slow start yet again, a look at possible people from the Gettleman “tree” that might be replacements for the embattled Head Coach.

This article is not intended to be a rant about how/why Rivera should be fired or not. Since most GMs like to have “their guy” as Head Coach, Rivera’s own situation makes his seat particularly hot. He’s not a Gettleman hire and he’s not winning ball games. I think his success or failure as the Carolina Panthers Head Coach still largely rests in his own hands, but we’ll take a look at other possible options later on in this article.

First of all, Dave’s history:

1986–1993 – Buffalo Bills –
* 1986 – Scouting Intern
* 1986-1993 – scout
1994-1997 – Denver Broncos – scout
1998-2012 – New York Giants –
* 1998 – scout
* 1999-2011 – Pro Personnel Director
* 2012 – Senior Pro Personnel Analyst
2013-present – General Manager, Carolina Panthers

So, we see he began as a scout and spent over a dozen years in that capacity so he saw a TON of collegiate players and did in-depth analysis of their strengths and weaknesses. The man should know by now what he’s looking for at each position specifically and what makes a good football player at ANY position on the inside.

Sep 8, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (98) on the field before the game. The Seahawks defeated the Panthers 12-7 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

He spent another dozen years as Pro Personnel Director with the Giants. That’s the position that deals with players’ agents. There’s a good article on it specifically at Nationalfootballpost.com so just click on the link to go have a look there, but a good Pro Personnel Director should know every player in the NFL and be able to help fill in the BACK end of a team’s roster….the “2’s” and the “3’s” of the squad, the special teams guys, and the practice squad. The “stars” are the easiest part to see; it’s those late-round “gems” that can turn a mediocre franchise into a dominant one.

With 25 years of experience in scouting, 12 of those years with playoff teams, and some of that in dealing with the “business” side of the NFL, Gettleman certainly seems qualified for the position of General Manager. Since he joined the cash-strapped Carolina Panthers, I’ve been keeping an eye on the moves he has made….April 2013 NFL Draft aside:

His first signing was defensive tackle Colin Cole, who had been out of the NFL for two seasons. An unusual move to be sure, but when you don’t have much money to offer and a long laundry list of needs to fill, you do what you can when and where you can do it.

He signed former top-ten overall draft pick from seven years ago, Ted Ginn Jr., as a WR/KR in probably his biggest-name acquisition before the season…that’s how bad the cap situation is.

With WR Armanti Edwards being released after the 38-0 blowout of Gettleman’s former employer, just yesterday Gettleman signed WR Marvin McNutt off the Miami Dolphins practice squad.

In-between, he’s been quite active in signing inexpensive free agents, getting players for the practice squad, and you can find a complete list of moves he has made right here.

As far as the draft goes, I think his best value pick was the sixth-round pick of RB Kenjon Barner, former Oregon Duck of Quack Attack fame. If Barner can learn to hang on to the football, I think he has a bright future in Carolina. That particular draft choice also gives us a peek into his vision for the franchise as he will likely break up the high-priced backfield of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert. There’s just too much money tied up in the position to make improvements elsewhere, so the pick telegraphs (at least to me) that the backfield situation will be quite different in 2014.

SportScience creator and host, John Brenkus, has the inside story on Kenjon Barner in my interview with Mr. Brenkus and why he is high on Barner as well.

Dec 30, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Armanti Edwards (14) returns a punt against the New Orleans Saints during fourth quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Carolina Panthers defeated the New Orleans Saints 44-38. John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

So far, none of his acquisitions has made a huge splash, but then again the lack of cash means you can’t go out and get in a bidding war like the Miami Dolphins, for instance, did this off-season.

With the injury to safety Charles Godfrey, however, defensive back Mike Mitchell, my own pick for “unlikeliest pleasant surprise” for the Panthers in the pre-season, may finally have the chance to make an impact that he hasn’t been afforded so far in his young career.

Just five days ago, he traded LB Jon Beason to his former team, the hapless (in 2013) New York Giants. Here, I think he “sold high” as he could, given the fact that Beason’s pass coverage has become a liability ever since he ruptured his Achilles tendon last year.

As for why he wants a Marvin McNutt over an Armanti Edwards, we’ll just have to wait and see, but the Panthers’ receiving corps is underachieving as a whole this season. My own theory is offensive line issues are at the heart of the offensive struggles in general, but dropping passes on critical 3rd-down conversion attempts, as WR Brandon LaFell did last week, doesn’t help either.

Outside a declining Steve Smith, the Panthers have very little to scare defenders with at the WR position.

But getting back to the point I touched up on earlier, who might be targeted as a replacement for Ron Rivera, given Gettleman’s extensive 25-year NFL career, should Rivera fail to finish out the season strongly and at least secure a Wild Card playoff spot – as unlikely as it seems, it could still happen?

Aug 9, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Kenjon Barner (25) runs the ball in for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the second quarter. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

First, let’s remember who Gettleman is at the pro level; he is a scout, not a coach. The defensive front seven is built with a little bit of work needed at FS and CB, but there’s young talent there. Next year’s draft will likely and even necessarily be all about the offense.

There is also present one third-year and uber-talented young QB in Cam Newton. I see he is still making the rookie mistakes and have been saying it over and over again: he throws off his back foot too often, he stares down his primary receivers too often and sometimes hesitates when deciding to scramble.

These are all rookie mistakes that he’s making in his third season. Combine that with the 2014 draft heavily slanted to the offensive side of the football, the talent present on the defensive side, and glaring needs everywhere on the offensive except for the backfield, and I see a recipe for opting for an offensive-minded quarterback guru.

Who first comes to mind there, even today?

Yes, that would be Jon Gruden.

I don’t think the question is would Gettleman want Gruden; it’s more one of if Gruden wants the Panthers. He pretty much took over a team with nearly equivalent defensive talents and won a Super Bowl with a journeyman QB (Brad Johnson). Needless to say, Cam’s got a tad more upside than Johnson.

That Tampa Bay team had a ball-control offense that didn’t turn the ball over as they went +17 in turnover margin, first in the NFL.

A lot of people question his ability to sustain a program and that he took over a team Tony Dungy built and won a Super Bowl with it.

Either way, he did win a Super Bowl.

Any connection between Gruden and Gettleman? Nope. Gruden went up through Green Bay, Philly, Oakland, and Tampa Bay.

One interesting name that does have a connection to the Panthers at least is some fellow named Bill Cowher. He’s only 56 years old and employed Dom Capers as Defensive Coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1992-1994. Cowher, I believe, lives in North Carolina so a job in Charlotte would be as attractive as any to a man in his position, age, and standing should he wish to return to coaching.

He’s a defensive mind but a proven winner. Rings are really what it’s all about, but then again here we are thinking about retired people while Metlife Stadium looms further and further away this season.

Next thing, Brett Favre might – DOH!!

Are there any distinguished offensive coaches associated with Dave Gettleman?

The most obvious answer would be yes – former Giants coordinators. Who is on that list?

Well, Jim Fassel left after the 2003 season, and Gettleman was brought over in 1998, so there could be a chance of some deep connection in those first years. Tom Coughlin took over after that, but Gettleman wasn’t the hiring force in any case. I’m just looking around to see who he might know.

Coughlin is in the Tuna/Belichick coaching tree…not a bad foundation to shake from.

Like most “coaching trees” are, I’d wager, it has a checkered look to it. Lane Kiffin? Uhhh he seriously like the day before yesterday got fired from his head coaching gig at Southern Cal. Bobby Petrino, the guy who up and left the Atlanta Falcons high and dry in 2007, is actually being tossed around as Lane’s replacement at USC!

I swear, I couldn’t make this up if I tried. There’s a pair to rule out right now!

At least there was never any tie to the Giants directly, so Gettleman probably has no love for the guy. I just had to mention it out of the bizarre situation and current news because it JUST happened this past week.

Kevin Gilbride is the Offensive Coordinator for the Giants, so he’d be the most glaring choice other than some of the wish-list names that get thrown out. He has seen his share of a roller-coaster ride with Eli Manning, but at least he’s been at the pinnacle with them twice.

On the downside, he’s 62 years old and got in a fistfight with Buddy Ryan on national tv. I actually was watching that game when it happened. No real damage done other than to their reputations and it’s probably just an exclamation point as to why he’s not the choice…along with a 6-16 lifetime record.

It’s a tough business, seriously.

Where do we wind up from Gettleman’s point of view?

Right now, figuring that much in advance without deep knowledge of the man himself is difficult at best.

Jay Gruden’s name has been thrown around as well by many. I point to his work – Andy Dalton – and ask if that’s an upgrade.

I don’t see a great piece of work there, at least. Turn the keys over to him? No way. Not at this point, anyway.

It’s certainly a gem when you run across a Tom Landry, a Chuck Knoll, or a Don Shula. It’s also certainly quite rare.

When you consider some of the historical moves, teams can and do hire from the outside. The Miami Dolphins picked up Mike McCarthy’s OC in Green Bay, for example.

I suppose if you had to force me to pick a guy today, it would be Pete Carmichael, Jr., the Offensive Coordinator of the New Orleans Saints. He has been Sean Payton’s right-hand man for years now and is as such part of Bill Parcells’ coaching tree, if you will. Sean Payton is, so at least the influence is there.

October 7, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael before their game against the San Diego Chargers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook – USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to argue with the success he has had, as well. With so many potent offenses in the NFL these days – Dallas, Denver, Green Bay, New Orleans is always a part of that mix. If you want to find out what Cam Newton can be all about in his contract year of 2014, Carmichael may be just the guy to find out.

He’s got some experience, he has a proven record of scoring points, and probably has picked up as much from his own Head Coach, Sean Payton of division rival New Orleans, as he’s going to by now and be his own coach to run his own show.

People get so caught up in having that franchise quarterback they overlook the luxury of a guy like Sean Payton – a true franchise Head Coach.

It may well be his own assistant that faces off against him twice a season from the other side of the field and would only add fuel to the fire.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye