Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman could find himself in a familiar spot in February as the longtime Giants personnel guru’s Panthers are looking like Super Bowl contenders.
Back when Ernie Accorsi was general manager of the Giants and the team would fly back late from road trips, he’d sleep over on the couch in his office instead of heading back to his Manhattan apartment. It was peaceful for a while, until after midnight.
That’s when Dave Gettleman would get there.
“Dave would come back in the middle of the night half the time because he was scouting our next opponent,” Accorsi remembers. “A lot of times, he wouldn’t know I was in there because the door would be closed. He’d come in and all of a sudden the music is loud and of course, he thinks he’s the only one in the building, so I used to pound on the door, ‘turn that damn music off.'”
Gettleman may have eventually let Accorsi sleep but not himself. From the time he got to the Giants’ pro personnel department in 1998, he worked harder than anyone in the organization. Few people anywhere paid more dues. After nearly 30 years behind the scenes in the NFL, they could have easily added up theoretically to franchise quarterback’s salary. Now that the dividend has finally come in, people are starting to realize that Gettleman may be just as valuable.
When you look at the reasons for the Panthers’ success as they head into a rematch with the Saints that will likely settle the NFC South, they were all put into motion last January when Carolina owner Jerry Richardson hired the 61-year-old Gettleman as his GM.
True to form, Gettleman has declined interviews because he thinks his players and coaches are the story. After so many years under the radar, he doesn’t need accolades. But he’s getting them anyway. This is a guy who inherited a roster that was $ 16 million over the cap and got them to $ 12 mil under while improving the makeup of the team, shrewdly using free agent signings like Quintin Mikell, Mike Mitchell and Ted Ginn Jr. to bolster weaknesses while renegotiating contracts of some necessary core players.
He had just five picks in his first draft but found gems in the first two rounds, following the Giants’ formula of a dominant pass rush, with defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short. They helped take the defense up to the No. 2 ranking in the NFL. Cam Newton’s development transformed the offense. After going 13-19 and missing the playoffs the previous two years, the Panthers are 10-4.
Giants owner John Mara is not surprised.
When Ernie Acorsi leaves the Giants, Dave Gettleman is passed over for the GM’s job, losing out to his assistant, Jerry Reese. ‘It was very tough,’ John Mara says of the decision.
“If anybody deserved a chance to be a general manager in the National Football League it was Dave Gettleman,” Mara says. “It was frustrating for him and the rest of us who were trying to help him that he got passed over so many times by a number of different teams, a number of which I made personal phone calls to to try to help him.
“I knew how good he was,” Mara says. “It just was frustrating to me that they didn’t offer him a job because he would have made them better and in a number of cases, they paid the price for it.”
The Giants, of course, passed him by as well when they hired Jerry Reese, then Gettleman’s assistant.
“It was very tough,” Mara acknowledges. “I felt like we could have gone either way on that one. I felt bad in a sense because I knew Dave had paid his dues and was certainly deserving of a chance. It was a close call.”
Reese, 11 years younger than Gettleman, was hired in 2007. Accorsi, acting as a consultant, recommended Gettleman twice to Browns owner Randy Lerner without success. The Chiefs passed on him, too. Gettleman could see the trend was toward hiring GMs in their 30s and 40s.
“He had gotten to the point where he had given up on the idea of ever being a general manager and during the 2012 season, he actually stepped back and started working more on a part time basis. I mean part time for him was still twice as much as anybody else worked,” Mara explains. “And I remember talking to him and he told me pretty much that he was never going to be a general manager and that he wanted to be able to spend some time with his family.
“He was actually in tears at one point talking about how he had never been to his daughter’s college because he had worked so hard and he has to make some changes. Then suddenly the Carolina job comes along and fortunately for him, they hire Ernie as a consultant and I have a very close relationship with Jerry Richardson so he had a leg up. As so often happens in these cases, you have to be in the right place at the right time and he was.”
For so many years, it was Gettleman who was the right man at the right time for so many teams. After starting as a high school coach in Poughkeepsie, he joined the scouting department of the Bills in 1986, then moved onto the Broncos as a regional scout in 1992 before the Giants made him assistant director of pro personnel in ’98 before he took over the department a year later. In all, he has been involved with six Super Bowl teams, three of them winners.
Dave Gettleman is where he never thought he would be: working as general manager of an NFL team.
“He was a hit right from the start,” Accori remembers. “You could walk in there at any time and ask him about the fifth defensive back for the Denver Broncos. Boom, he didn’t have to look it up on the computer. He knew the guy. He knew him cold. He would talk about him. He had tremendous recall on every player in the league.”
“I told Jerry Richardson at the time I never met anybody that knows as much about the personnel in the National Football League as Dave,” he says. “You could question him about any team, any position on that team and he’ll give you chapter and verse on the individual player right off the top of his head. There aren’t too many guys like that.”
“The other thing is — and I knew this was going to be a factor for him when he became a general manager — he was pretty much the most popular guy in our building,” Accorsi adds. “We used to call him the mayor. He was never too busy to stop and talk to anybody, whether it was the ticket office or PR.”
“You know the other thing he did which I thought was great?” Accrosi adds. “He didn’t go in and clean house. I just assumed he was going to clean out the personnel department. And after the draft he said to me, ‘they’re good people here.’ He didn’t fire anybody. He’s so open-minded that way. One thing you do with Dave is take the ego out of the picture.”
When Gettleman finally got the Panthers’ job, Accorsi told him after all was said and done, he probably ended up in the best place. Ironically, by the end of the season, he could end up in a familiar place since the NFC Super Bowl representative will take over the Giants’ facility that week.
“I couldn’t think of anybody else I’d rather have taking over our place,” Mara says.
Even if he’s in there all night.