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Bills GM on Dan Morgan's growth into new role: "He is not afraid"

Dan Morgan

CHARLOTTE — The first time Brandon Beane met Dan Morgan in 2001, Beane had worked his way up from intern to the guy in charge of buying plane tickets for the first-round picks.

So when Morgan was willing to be the guy picking players up at the airport when he began his career as a scouting intern in Seattle, that convinced Beane that his former Panthers co-worker had what it takes to make it in his second career in football.

The Buffalo Bills general manager hired Morgan as his director of player personnel in 2018 after Morgan moved up the ladder in Seattle. But the fact that Morgan knew he had to begin at the ground floor impressed him.

"When he first started there, he was willing to go pick a guy up at the airport," Beane said, shortly after Morgan was promoted to President of Football Operations/General Manager for the Panthers last week.

"Like he wasn't a first-round pick," the Bills GM continued with a laugh. "Very few guys have had his status, won the college awards, went to the Pro Bowl, obviously all the tackles he had in the Super Bowl, and can humble themselves to go at the airport. And Dan was willing to truly start from the bottom, at a place where people didn't really know him. So I just thought for a guy that would do that, that tells you he's all in if he's willing to humble himself.

"And then I would see him at Senior Bowl over the years, at the combine, or talk to him here and there, and you could just tell how much he was enjoying it. He was like a kid in a candy store early on, just soaking it all in."

Dan Morgan
 Buffalo Bills 2018 Organized Team Activity.
 Photo by Bill Wippert.
 June 4, 2018.

That Dan Morgan loves football is no surprise to anyone who followed his career as a player. His intensity and focus and preparation were his hallmarks. On the field was where all the joy (and the intensity and focus and preparation) came out. But it was hard to see anything but ball player off the field in those years. Morgan could have easily been a celebrity here but was content letting everyone else talk. He was happier watching film. And when he did go out in those early years, a big night out was often bowling with his position coach, Sam Mills.

"He was always in the building," Beane recalled. "Just one of those dudes that he didn't want to do anything else. He didn't seem like he really had outside interests, like some of these guys do."

So, for a first-round pick (11th overall in the pivotal 2001 draft class here) to approach the job the way an undrafted rookie would, that was all anyone needed to see. Because you could already tell that Morgan had an eye for the game, and pairing that kind of recognition with his kind of drive was a recipe for success.

Of course, moving up the scouting ladder is one thing, but moving into the big office is something altogether different, as Beane knows well.

Brandon Beane, Sean McDermott

After his days as a Panthers intern and moving into the operations department, Beane knows about learning as you grow. He'd eventually get tutored by then-Panthers GM Marty Hurney and cap guy Rob Rogers on the financial side of the game, and he'd eventually rise to assistant GM for his hometown team (Beane grew up in Stanly County). The Bills hired him away in 2017, and he's helped turn them into consistent winners. They broke a 17-year playoff drought in his first season in charge, and they've been to the postseason six of his seven years and won four straight division titles.

You don't do that without having a deep bench, on and off the field. Beane immediately hired fellow former Panthers intern Joe Schoen (now the GM of the Giants) as his assistant and, a year later, plucked Morgan from the Seahawks personnel department. Once you've been in the business long enough to have a front office tree, you've learned what it takes to not only do the job but to develop others.

And what Beane saw from Morgan in his three years in Buffalo convinced him the Panthers made a good choice this offseason.

"Dan's a football guy; he knows it," Beane said. "Obviously, he played it, and so he's going to bring something I can't bring. I can't stand in front of a guy in the locker room and say, I know what you're talking about. Dan's got that.

"He's going to walk in the room with credibility with players which very few GMs have, much less to be the player he was when he was in his prime."

Dan Morgan, Mike Rucker, Muhsin Muhammad, Steve Smith

Having that trust among players will be important, and Morgan has that. But that's also only a part of the job. Most of Morgan's experience in the Seahawks front office was on the pro scouting side, so Beane started giving him more responsibility in the college scouting process and (as Hurney did with him) teaching him more about how the salary cap and player values were an integral part of the greater whole as well.

"I told him, we're going to get you out on the road more, and you're going to lay out a college schedule," Beane said. "And at the time, Joe (Schoen) was still here, and so he and Joe would split up what they were doing. How do we go about the whole process? What does a December meeting look like? What are the February meetings looking like? How do we do things at the combine? How do we maximize everything we do to set the draft board the best for our team because everybody's draft board is different? So I think that was the biggest part of teaching him.

"And then the second thing was understanding the cap more, explaining decisions, you know, hearing how the whole roster is built versus just the pro side or just free agency."

Dan Morgan

Beane said that as he watched Morgan develop over the years, he saw him grow in confidence throughout the building. When you're in these long draft meetings, you can't get by on reputation. No matter how good of a player someone was, if they're not prepared, scouts will see right through it.

So Beane encouraged all his staff, from the youngest scouts to the most senior, to voice their opinions. He watched Morgan grow through that process, but he also knows from experience that being the final decision-maker is different.

That requires listening, bringing everyone together, and then being willing to put it on the line to make the final call, but only after building solidarity with the head coach and the rest of the staff.

"Listen, you can't be everywhere," Beane said when asked about taking that final step and becoming a GM. "First, you have to hire good people, and you've got to trust them. But you also have to understand that at some point, you've got to have the stones to make the best decision for the club. And sometimes, it's not always going to be the most popular decision."

Beane had the advantage of beginning his journey in Buffalo alongside coach Sean McDermott, whom he also knew from their days together in Carolina. That's not unlike the background Morgan has with new Panthers head coach Dave Canales. But even if you know each other well, GMs and coaches have different perspectives based on their job descriptions.

"You've got to manage your relationship with your head coach; you two have to be aligned," Beane said. "There's going to be times you're going to disagree. But just understanding even though you're making the final decision, you're getting his input, and then the head coach understands too, sometimes you have to make the best decision for a long-term approach. Coaches are always going to try to win every day, every practice, every game, everything. And sometimes, you have to make a decision that is not for today, but it's a better decision for tomorrow.

"And again, there's going to be times you have meetings with your head coach and your owner, and you got to be able to explain all that and get the consensus. And when you three walk out of there, all be in alignment. And that starts, to me, with your GM being able to do that because every owner is different, as well. And so, understanding your owner and your head coach. And again, you've got to have the stones to make some tough decisions because you've got all the facts."

Dan Morgan

Morgan's a week into being that guy, but based on what he's seen over their three years together, it's a trait Beane is confident he possesses.

"He is not afraid," Beane said of the former linebacker. "You know, our owner was in draft meetings, and if he asked a question or disagreed with something, or if coach McDermott said something, or a coordinator. Like, if Dan didn't believe that you were right, he was going to stand on the table. I always told the guys to speak up if you've done the work, and Dan wouldn't speak out of turn, but if he had done the work, he wouldn't back down from me as well if he disagreed.

"I've seen him disagree with our owner. I've seen him disagree with the head coach in different situations in a respectful manner. Also, understanding his role here, after you make your case, sometimes the decision is going to be made, and maybe we don't go with you. It's big for the GM to explain to everyone that once a decision is made, it's the decision of the club. Everyone in the building's got to support that. People want to be right, and that's not what it is.

"It's making sure you make the right decision for the team. And that's where the GM comes in and has to create that alignment throughout your building once decisions are made."

And sometimes, that means trusting the entire staff once you've created an environment of trust.

"I always tell people when you get in this seat, you do the work, trust your instincts, trust your gut, but it's not just you; you've got to listen too," Beane said. "And sometimes people have got to be able to convince you that they're right too. If you say I'll give you the floor and you never take their opinion, they're going to stop giving it to you. If you do it for two years and you've never listened to me once, well, that's not really listening. So I think he'll do that.

"There's many personnel guys that have gotten to the top seat, but you've got to be able to manage all those things and form a line and make tough decisions. And that's the difference. If you can't get your building all working together, and you can't be willing to make tough decisions yet also listen and sometimes acquiesce to a coach or someone else, it won't work. But I think he can do all that. I'm excited for Dan, and I think he'll do a good job."

Morgan played middle linebacker for the Panthers from 2001-07. He spent seven seasons in the Seattle Seahawks personnel department and then was with the Buffalo Bills from 2018-21, most recently as Director of Player Personnel.

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