When it comes to firing your general manager, conventional wisdom says to do it at the end of the season, not nine days before you open training camp.
The Carolina Panthers clearly don't believe in conventional wisdom.
On the morning of July 17, all was quiet on the corner of Mint and Morehead streets — that is, until the Panthers suddenly blasted out a statement about Dave Gettleman's dismissal. In it, team owner Jerry Richardson stated, "After much thought and a long evaluation of our football operations, I have decided to relieve Dave Gettleman of his duties as general manager."
The Big Cat continued, "I want to thank Dave for the role he played in our success over the past four seasons. While the timing of this decision is not ideal, a change is needed."
Putting the dubious timing aside, let's consider Gettleman's resumé. The Panthers had three NFC South division titles in the four years of his reign. Granted, one came with a sub .500 record, but the overall results were there for Gettleman. He set the Panthers up for sustained success both in terms of the salary cap and in terms of winning football games. Why would ownership fire him with little over a week until the start of training camp?
One potential answer lies within the handling of contract negotiations for Panthers veterans. Everyone remembers the toxic breakup between Steve Smith and the Panthers, which was partly Gettleman's fault for handling it so poorly with the media. Then there was his mismanagement of the Josh Norman debacle, in which Norman was franchise tagged by the Panthers until he wasn't, with that decision coming three weeks before the 2016 NFL Draft. A lot of it came down to Gettleman's negotiating style, which kept the team competitive and under the salary cap, but didn't gain many fans with veteran leaders in the locker room.
The last straw may have been recent contract negotiations between Gettleman and Thomas Davis. Bill Voth of Panthers.com wrote, "It's not hard to imagine that Gettleman's blunt approach was irksome to Richardson, especially if it involved Davis. No player has exemplified what he wants his franchise to represent more than the 13-year veteran. So when Gettleman and Davis were unable to get on the same page about how and when to get a deal done, Gettleman ran out of rope."
Things got even stranger just 77 hours after Gettleman's dismissal, when the Panthers tapped into Charlotte's love of nostalgia and brought back Marty Hurney in an interim role as GM. This brought about mixed feelings from the fanbase for a number of reasons, the first being that Hurney's mismanagement of the salary cap was the primary reason why Gettleman was brought in to begin with. Hurney signed linebacker Jon Beason, running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams and wide receiver Steve Smith to exorbitant "loyalty" contracts after the 2010 NFL lockout. Of those players, only Stewart currently remains with the Panthers.
"Marty is the perfect person to help us in the interim," Richardson said in a statement. "He worked with us for 15 years and understands the culture we have here. He had a lot to do with the core of our team being in place. I'm thankful that he is willing to help us in this transition period."
Hurney got right to work, signing right guard Trai Turner to a four-year, 45-million-dollar deal, the first in a line of signings expected to come under Hurney. Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen are also expected to sign extensions with the team before the season ends.
In a surprise move on July 24, Hurney fired longtime scouting director Mark Koncz, whom some had speculated would be up for the long-term GM role once Hurney leaves or replaces Danny Morrison, the former team president who left in February (yes, the team is currently without a president, not to mention assistant GM, all adding to the dumpster fire).
This all begs the question: Where is this franchise headed after this season?
It's reasonable to speculate that Hurney could slide up to team president, then quickly fill both the GM and assistant GM positions. He might do that from within the organization — look at Don Gregory now that Koncz is out — or hire from outside. Regardless, Hurney's tenure, even if short, will be impactful.
The Panthers are kicking off training camp Wednesday, the day this column hits racks, and the Panthers still face more questions about the future of the organization than they did just a week ago.
It's said that winning cures all, but for the Panthers organization, the 2018 outlook is starting to look terminal.
For now, it looks like the questions that began on July 17 will go unanswered deep into the offseason, and at that point, will you even trust the person giving you the answers?