Mon, 08 Mar 2021

Darin Gantt

CHARLOTTE - Panthers owner David Tepper described the process that led to the hiring of general manager Scott Fitterer as "exhaustive."

It was also exhausting, as Tepper, head coach Matt Rhule, and chief communications officer Steven Drummond interviewed 15 candidates for the job (four of them twice) over an 11-day span before Fitterer agreed to a deal last Thursday.

"There was a lot of stuff learned in those one and half weeks," Tepper said. "In every interview you do, you get a little bit smarter, if you will."

Tepper also made it clear that those lessons learned will apply to every major decision moving forward.

He admitted in his early days of owning the team (after a stint as a minority partner in Pittsburgh), it was easy to get caught up in the emotions of the sport. There's a lot to take in at a ball game.

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"There's a little bit of walking in the door and going, 'Wow, football, the NFL,'" Tepper said. "De-mystifying it, a little bit, for myself. I was in Pittsburgh, but I wasn't making those decisions.

"But making good decisions is making good decisions. I put it on myself. And sometimes in the past, I didn't put it through the same rigorous decision-making process that I would have done in other things I do in my life."

Tepper has freely admitted over the years that he's learning the football industry on the fly. When he bought the team, he started with the business side of the operation because the business world was one he moved comfortably in. So that's the first thing he turned upside down and gave a good shake to.

As a result, the coach and GM he inherited were left on their own for a bit, while Tepper decided what he wanted his football operation to look like. Head coach Ron Rivera was gone before the end of Tepper's second season, and after letting Marty Hurney go late in his third, Tepper admitted he was ready to make more informed decisions on his own.

"Sometimes students have to graduate," he said in December.

"If I've had a successful career away from this sport, well why the heck was I not making the same rigorous decision-making process before," Tepper said Thursday. "I can't say every decision that we made in the past, I probably didn't insist on that. Well, that's not happening anymore."

Knowing what you want, then gathering all available information before making decisions is obviously a wise way to proceed. And before he hired Fitterer away from the Seahawks (where he effectively functioned as an assistant GM), Tepper made sure to cast a wide net. And he's far from the first NFL owner to use job searches as intelligence-gathering missions.

The late Al Davis would routinely use coaching vacancies as chances to poke around in the closets of his division rivals. And it's no accident the early stages of the Panthers' recent search included a number of personnel men with Patriots ties, among other top organizations such as the Seahawks and Chiefs. But Tepper also met with candidates from a variety of backgrounds and demographics, from 30-something caps-and-contracts guys to veteran evaluators in their 50s, with Super Bowl rings.

Tepper said there were another 10 to 15 candidates he did voluminous research on, who ultimately did not interview for the job.

He also pointed out that interviewing for a GM vacancy was more complicated than hiring a coach. Coaches have records, and results of individual games on the backs of their football cards. With personnel men, it's hard to know how much authority they had in their team's construction, so it's harder to figure out who gets credit for what.

"This was weeks of my life. This wasn't like 15 hours of talking to people (on a videoconference)," he said. "When I say it was exhaustive, I'm not just saying it; it was a fact. And I wasn't the only one talking to people. Drummond was talking to people. Matt talked to people.

"This was not getting five names from some headhunter and talking to them. We did the research ourselves, . . . the work was put in."

Tepper hopes that going through that kind of process yields a positive result, as he's firm in the belief that Fitterer will provide the perfect counterpoint to Rhule. But as important is the fact that he was the main decision-maker. Owning the building conveys a certain authority, but now he absolutely has ownership of the football product on the field.

"Everything's my fault at the end of the day because my name's on the door," Tepper said. "But now it's truly my names and my guys in the building. So now it's on me. And now if I messed up, then I messed up, it's on me.

"For me, I had to get a certain amount of knowledge, so that in my own mind, I was making the right decisions. Hopefully I made the right decisions."

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