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Panthers believe they've found the right fit

Scott Fitterer at Bank of America Stadium

CHARLOTTE – Panthers owner David Tepper can't resist the play on words. He even has a hand gesture to go with it.

Put simply, he thinks new general manager Scott Fitterer is a fit for what he wants to build here.

Tepper laughed as he interlaced his fingers, and talked about what he saw in his new GM, but it's clear after a lengthy process — they interviewed 15 candidates — the former Seahawks executive quickly rose to the top of the pile because of how he meshes with the larger vision Tepper has for the organization.

"Just what I thought he'd bring to the organization and his fit in the organization he came from," Tepper said of what caught his eye when he interviewed Fitterer. "His knowledge base of what he did where he was at. He was a true AGM (assistant general manager). I don't know if he had that title, but that's what he was doing."

And that Seattle structure is going to come up a lot, as Tepper referred to the "flatness of the structure," with the same regard with which Seahawks GM John Schneider said: "That's what we pride ourselves on, having no walls."

Tepper talked about reimagining the football operation when he made the change from former GM Marty Hurney, and Fitterer knows from having seen it work that the "collaborative" vision can work.

In many obvious ways, Matt Rhule is the Pete Carroll to Fitterer's Schneider, except that Rhule had a year's head start with this roster.

Fitterer is still getting to know Rhule (they've been limited to phone conversations since the two sides came to terms), but he's already getting a sense that this can work.

"It's very similar to the 2010 version of John and Pete, where Pete got there first, and it was his program and his vision, and John was brought in a couple of weeks later after the interview process, and they found a fit," Fitterer said in his first interview since taking the job last week. "It's very much like that, but that relationship has really grown over the years. It's become a collaboration.

"In the beginning, Pete was really in charge. But through no egos and the collaboration and the trust and the deep conversations they've had, Pete has opened up, and it's really a partnership. It's really a marriage between the two. And I've never seen an argument between them. They can challenge each other, they can have discussions, but in the end, they've always been in lockstep, and I think that's important for a GM and a coach to have. I think it was pretty quick, once Pete saw who John was and the type of person he was, he opened himself up pretty quick.

Schneider Fitterer

"That's what I think it's going to be like here. Matt's been great so far, and it's only going to grow from here."

Fitterer and Rhule will get a chance to honeymoon in Alabama next week when the Panthers arrive in Mobile to coach in the Senior Bowl. For now, the new GM is still learning his way around the building, figuring out who goes where. Since the coaches have dispersed, he started yesterday on the business side of the building, and has been making a lot of phone calls.

He did run into defensive coordinator Phil Snow in the hallways Thursday morning, meeting the guy he's going to be stocking players for soon. And Fitterer has also spoken with the scouts and personnel guys he inherited as he begins the process of figuring out what he wants the place to look like.

"To me, those relationships are so important," Fitterer said. "To get the buy-in, and everyone's on the same vision of what we want."

Relationships come up a lot in conversations with Fitterer. And "no ego" may be the leader in the clubhouse for his version of "process" when Rhule walked in the door. There is much discussing of sharing information, and putting in the work.

Fitterer himself is no stranger to the grunt work that goes into building a football team.

After his professional baseball career flamed out because of shoulder problems, he began his career in football scouting with the Giants in 1998.

Technology wasn't what it is now, and Fitterer quickly came to learn about The Box.

The Box was a scouting instrument, with sensors to measure lateral quickness, change-of-direction, and explosive movement. To operate it correctly, it had to be placed on a hard surface (as opposed to a grass football field or a track). It was also extremely unwieldy, and other scouts would make fun of you for carrying it around.

His was bequeathed to him from longtime Giants scout Jeremiah Davis, and Fitterer had to learn the art of electronics repair in the field, taping together his instrument and lugging it from town to town.

"The Box was a big silver suitcase, and it was about 40 pounds," Fitterer said with a laugh. "I would have to lug it everywhere I went. And I'd bring it on the airplane. And there's no chance now this would ever get on an airplane — it had wires, and pads, and a control box. It literally looks likes a bomb."

When he thinks back on his early days in the scouting business, those first burdened steps bring a smile.

"It was absolutely a rite of passage," he said.

But time has passed as well, as moments after he was doing his first round of interviews in his new home Thursday morning, a player Fitterer scouted was having his own press conference.

Fitterer recalled working out a tight end from Texas A&M named Dan Campbell, who was just introduced as the Lions' head coach.

Time has changed things. The job is different.

But the Panthers believe they've found their fit, and he's ready to get to work playing his part in the process.

"We're going to get after it," Fitterer said. "The wins are going to come. It's not going to be a quick fix, that we're looking for a quick spike. We're going to do this the right way, so we can sustain it, and build it over a period of time, and have a championship-caliber team.

"We're looking to compete right now, and we're going to build from there."

View photos of Fitterer from his first day at Bank of America Stadium.

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