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Why the Panthers hired Dan Morgan

Frankie Luvu, Dan Morgan

CHARLOTTE — When the Panthers were trying to build something lasting in 2002, they put the emphasis on finding players who were tough and smart.

Now, the Panthers are putting a new front office in place to do the same thing, and Dan Morgan is again calling the signals for it.

Hired Monday as the team's new President of Football Operations/General Manager, he's hours into a job that will include making changes to the team's front office structure while adding to an emphasis on player evaluation.

That part of it is tailor-made for Morgan; who knows what a player with the right kind of attitude looks like because he was one. And he knows how to build an organization from the ground floor up because that's how he rose through the ranks as a scout.

After his playing days, there were rapid ascents in the Seattle and Buffalo front offices as those teams built consistent playoff contenders. So this becomes the next step in a career leading with a toughness that you could always see in him and a willingness to work his way up.

The Panthers' first-round pick in 2001, he was in the middle of their Super Bowl run in 2003. Back then, coach John Fox drilled into his players that he wanted "tough and smart," and Morgan embodied that philosophy. There might have been bigger stars on that defense — and he was fine to fade into the background when it was time to talk — but from front to back, they looked to Morgan to get them on the same page and perform.

Fox needed guys who knew what to do but weren't afraid to mix it up, either. A hard-hitting linebacker who played under assistant coach Sam Mills during his early years, Morgan was known for his ability to identify and react instantly and instinctively, delivering so many big hits. In many ways, he was the early version of Luke Kuechly here, calling the signals for a defense that improved from last in the league to second in one season and then to the Super Bowl the following year.

The hair was longer then, and it was often on fire.

Dan Morgan, Matt Willig

Now, he wears glasses, and there's always a notebook nearby.

That's the difference between the Dan Morgan that played here and the one they promoted Monday. The Panthers aren't just hiring a former player.

Morgan has 14 years of front-office experience, seeing every rung of the ladder on his way up. After joining the Seahawks as a scouting intern in 2010, he rose to assistant director of pro personnel, the position he held when they won the Super Bowl there. After eventually becoming the director of pro personnel, he left in 2018 to join the Bills (and former Carolina co-worker Brandon Beane) as director of player personnel.

"You got a good one," Beane said Tuesday. "Dan knows football, and knows what it takes to do this job."

Morgan joined the Panthers as assistant GM in 2021 and has always had an eye for the kind of hard-edged player he was. It's no wonder he likes guys such as linebacker Frankie Luvu, who became the kind of energy player a team can build around.

And with the relationships he's built both here and across the league, it gives the Panthers a chance to continue to build.

Dan Morgan's the kind of player football lifers loved. He's also the kind of scout other scouts respect, and that respect extends into the agent community. In a business full of those who seek expedience, Morgan's not afraid to speak his mind. People know where they stand with Dan Morgan.

That's also earned him a measure of trust within the locker room, and that matters in a process like this one.

Dan Morgan

His hiring is also a first step. He'll report to owner David Tepper, as will the next coach of the team, which they're working through interviews for now, which is consistent with last year. But there will be changes. It's not an overhaul of a front office, as the Panthers have gradually added in a number of areas of the football operation that they wanted to retain. From an increased emphasis on sports science and player-focused additions to the organization in areas such as nutrition and wellness, the Panthers had pieces in place they wanted to keep while building on the field. No one wants to hear about infrastructure after a 2-15 season, but those parts remain important.

This isn't a tear-down. It's a renovation with an architect who has a vision of what the finished product is supposed to look like because he's seen what it's supposed to look like.

Adding Morgan allows them to continue that process without starting over.

There are core pieces in place of a defense that finished fourth in the league last year, even without middle linebacker Shaq Thompson and cornerback Jaycee Horn for most of the year. From defensive tackle Derrick Brown to pass-rusher Brian Burns to an intact secondary, that group ought to be able to contend within a reasonable time frame.

And if they can build around No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young at quarterback, the hope is they can get to the kind of consistent winning Morgan saw with the Seahawks and Bills.

They also hope he can bring what he brought to the field — a certain toughness, intensity, and results.

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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