The revolving cycle continues in the sports world.
It’s a pattern that goes back decades — and perhaps even back to the days of the Roman Empire.
What am I talking about? The Panthers fired General Manager Dave Gettleman this week. But it’s really about more than that.
Throughout history there has been a need for someone to come in and whip a group of men into shape and make something of them. It could be a drill sergeant taking young recruits and making a platoon out of them. It could be a high school basketball coach trying to teach a bunch of energetic, but rambunctious teens to play the game the right way.
One of the ways this works is by giving the men a common enemy — usually the coach himself. He whips them into shape, while fully understanding that there is a resentment growing among the troops (or players) toward him.
In the Army, the drill sergeant only sees recruits for three months, then they get passed along to a base. The privates don’t have to look at those instructors again, so it doesn’t matter what they thought of their drill sergeants.
In the NFL, however, the same coach riding your butt all summer is still there all season. And if the player has a four-year contract, that can be a long time to spend with a coach heavy on authority.
Tom Coughlin had success in Jacksonville before he wore out his welcome. When he started with the Giants, Coughlin said he had learned to be a little less rough, but some of the Giants wouldn’t attest to that.
Some of the stories coming out of Charlotte this week sound like Gettleman might be guilty of being exactly what he was hired to be: a hard case who could right the ship.
Let’s not forget that when Gettleman arrived, the Panthers were a bad team with a maxed-out payroll. Some of the salary cap was eaten up by players who weren’t even on the team anymore — guaranteed money still being paid to guys who had been cut.
Plus, the previous GM, Marty Hurney, might have been guilty of rewarding players based off past performances instead of future expectations.
It just isn’t wise in most cases to give a big contract to a 30-year-old football player because of the threat of injury, the wear and tear of several years in the league, and the inevitable decline with age. Sure, there is the occasional Darrell Green or Charles Woodson who plays well into his late-30s, but those are rare.
In came Gettleman to straighten out the budget and try to still put together a competitive roster.
A former scout, Gettleman showed his drafting prowess with picks like Luke Kuechley, Kawann Short and and guy I think is on the rise in Shaq Thompson. He managed to find some bargains to piece together a crippled secondary like Mike Mitchell, Kurt Coleman and Roman Harper.
He also had to make some tough decisions on fan favorites, letting WR Steve Smith and RB Deangelo Williams go. This created ill will with a lot of fans (which showed up this week when my Facebook feed was filled with people cheering his firing).
Still, I agreed with these moves from a business standpoint.
I didn’t used to feel this way. Before the Panthers started, I was a Steelers fan, and I have continued to be over the years. I was dismayed in the 1990s to see some of my favorite linebackers leaving on a regular basis like Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Chad Brown and Jason Gildon, as well as Pro Bowl CB Rod Woodson.
What took me a while to grasp was that the team was trying to create a sustainable business model. The Steelers didn’t just want to win in 1995 or 1996; they wanted to win for a decade. And the team has been one of the most successful franchises of the past 25 years.
Another team that hasn’t hung onto players out of sentiment is New England. The Patriots have shed many fan favorites over the years, understanding that if the team continues to win, the fans will develop new favorites.
If Gettleman had hung on to a weakened Jon Beason, Carolina wouldn’t have drafted Kuechley.
If he had kept Williams around, would the team have drafted Christian McCaffrey this spring?
Still, where Gettleman appeared to have gone too far (according to a couple of published reports out of Charlotte) was playing hardball with players in their prime that the owner wants to keep.
Jerry Richardson isn’t happy that the team let Josh Norman go without even making a trade for assets. And reports in the offseason are that the GM and DT Kawann Short never could agree on a new deal. And rising star RG Trai Turner is another player that the team wants to pin down.
If Gettleman is rubbing players the wrong way, and they decide not to re-sign with the Panthers, then that is a problem.
Then the cycle goes too far the other way. The hard case wears out his welcome, and a player-friendly coach or GM eases tension — at least for a while.
QB Troy Aikman said that when Jimmy Johnson left the Cowboys, many players were glad to get Barry Switzer because he was more laid back. That worked well enough that the Cowboys won another Super Bowl, but then the team fell apart without that necessary discipline.
Coach Ron Rivera can keep the players in line on the field. But if Gettleman is gone, who is going to keep the front office from falling apart? What will happen to the precious salary-cap management?
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.