Jerry Richardson never had a shoe named after him, an iconic McDonalds ad star him, nor was he regarded as the greatest player of all time-- but as Carolina natives, and ties to the area the Big Cat and Michael Jordan have a lot in common. Both owners are fierce competitors, and want their organizations to succeed, but as MJ learned recently with his Bobcats, sometimes he can be his own worse enemy. The Carolina Panthers have won two games in ten attempts this year, the Bobcats? Three wins in six attempts. En route to an unexpected .500 record, the Charlotte Bobcats have laid a road map for how the Carolina Panthers need to build, and even though the road may be paved with tears, the end result can be worth it.
Both Richardson and Jordan are operating under the same constraints. They're small-market owners, both of whom are navigating their respective sports to make them successes in Charlotte. The Panthers have succeeded through their PSL system, while the Bobcats have exceeded attendance expectations given how the product on the court has floundered. This is a region that responds to results, and chide 'bandwagon' fans all you like, but they are what put teams over the hump with an infusion of capital, and turn viable teams into successful businesses.
Quietly, the Charlotte Bobcats went through their own veteran purge in 2011. The organization traded their best player in Gerald Wallace, then prior to the draft traded their second best player in Stephen Jackson. It was an admission that the status quo was failing, and an acknowledgment that the team needed to collapse on the court in order to rebuild. Philosophically far more was going on behind the scenes; Michael Jordan was realizing that his way of doing things was failing, and ceded control to new general manager Rich Cho, a new-school number cruncher whose reductive approach to team building by metrics flew in the face of Jordan's 'gut feelings' about players from a former superstar's point of view.
It was this moment, ceding control, that Jerry Richardson needs to learn. JR is willing to allow his football people to do their jobs, but he keeps them in step with his beliefs. There's a reason Bill Polian had a falling out over getting complete control as GM, there's a reason Richardson worked so well with Marty Hurney who didn't like to make waves, and why the Carolina Panthers have had four head coaches, all from similar backgrounds. The Carolina Panthers are Jerry Richardson's team, but the product on the field is largely a product of his creation-- even though he's attempted to separate himself from Ron Rivera.
Being a former player carries a different burden than being a businessman. Where one's reach is long, and friendships run deep. Jordan learned this the hard way as he hand-picked Sam Vincent and Larry Brown to be head coaches that this relationship doesn't always work, and both were abject failures. Vincent proved incapable of being an NBA head coach, while Larry Brown controlled the roster to the point of insane short-term gains that doomed any long-term success of the organization. Since leaving the Bobcats, both made references to Jordan surrounding himself with 'yes men', and that effect on the franchise. That is, until now.
Forget about the buzzword (and completely incorrect usage) 'moneyball', but general manager Rich Cho and the Bobcats are taking a mathematical approach to building the team. With Jordan distancing himself from basketball decisions, it allowed Cho to hire a head coach completely out of left-field, bringing in the unheard of Mike Dunlap who had never been a head coach at any level. Rather than taking safe, NBA ready talent with the #2 overall pick, the Bobcats selected an offensively raw Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, looking for a high-character player with a ceaseless motor to be an extension of Dunlap on the floor. Was it because they had a hunch? No, it was because Cho's computer model told them he would be the right player. Averaging 12.7 pts, and 7.7 rebounds that model has rung true, as MKG is out-performing Bradley Beal (12.2 pts, 3.5 reb), and Thomas Robinson (5.7 pts, 3.7 reb), both of whom represented the 'NBA ready' talent the 'Cats were foolish to pass up.
Herein lies what the Carolina Panthers need to do. Obviously football and basketball are different sports, cut from entirely different cloths. It's vastly more difficult to build an NFL roster, than build a competitive basketball team due to complete reliance on chemistry and synergy-- one simply can't sign an elite QB, WR, and left tackle and win scores of games, for example. However, this is the time and opportunity for Jerry Richardson to step aside, and remove as much of himself from the football side of things as possible. Thus far the decision to bring in Ernie Accorsi to lead the GM search was a sage one, now JR needs to step away from the table. The best decision for the owner of the Panthers is to put his energy and focus to work with local politicians to solve the team's stadium upgrade needs, and allow Accorsi to take the path less traveled, maybe even hire some people completely out of left-field.
The more Jerry Richardson is involved with football operations, the greater the chance the Carolina Panthers repeat the same mistakes. There's a place for loyalty, fostering good will, and showing faith in drafted players without rewarding haphazardly. Football is more art than science, but that doesn't mean there isn't place for a numbers man to help rebuild this franchise in the 21st century. It's working for the Charlotte Bobcats, and the Panthers need to get with the times. Michael Jordan learned that his stamp wasn't working, lets hope JR realizes it too.