Brandon Beane is team-building in Buffalo – not Carolina – and he couldn't be happier - The Buffalo News
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Brandon Beane is team-building in Buffalo – not Carolina – and he couldn't be happier

Poor Brandon Beane. Such terrible timing.

Off he went to the Buffalo Bills, an NFL outpost enduring the longest playoff slump in North American professional sports. Back home, the Carolina Panthers – the team he helped construct – made a move that would have allowed him to become their general manager.

Two months after Beane left his position as Panthers assistant general manager, they fired GM Dave Gettleman.

Gettleman's job was the one for which Beane was passed over in 2013. Many in Carolina's front office believed Beane was destined to assume the role.

But assumptions shouldn't be made that this confluence of events was Beane's rotten luck.

Gettleman's firing was a bombshell in the NFL community. Had Beane sat tight, observers opined, the 41-year-old lifelong Carolinian finally would have realized his dream.

"When they let Gettleman go a couple months after Brandon had already gone up there," said Cindy Beane, his mother, "people were, like, 'Man, if only he had waited.'

"No, he's where he needs to be. We're tickled to death. We have absolutely no regrets, and he doesn't either."

The thing was, Gettleman's dismissal didn't particularly startle Brandon Beane. He knew Gettleman was nearing the end of his run, finishing last in the NFC South one season after reaching the Super Bowl. Patience in Charlotte was thin.

With a disdainful frown three weeks ago, Beane rejected any notion he rued his Buffalo decision.

Beane has more reasons to be here than there.

"I 100 percent knew I was in line for the Panthers job," Beane said, "but I like this situation and just felt the timing was right here, everything was right."

Beane was attracted to the prospect of building a program with rookie coach Sean McDermott, of assembling a football-operations staff virtually from scratch, of working with owners who impressed him and who said they'd give him space.

Terry and Kim Pegula offered franchise stability Beane probably wouldn't have had in Carolina.

New Bills general manager Brandon Beane, left, when he was assistant GM of the Carolina Panthers, with Panthers GM Dave Gettleman. (Charlotte Observer)

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is 81, underwent a heart transplant in 2009 and reportedly has instructed his estate to sell the team upon his death. Seven months after the transplant, Richardson forced his two sons out of the front office, underscoring the unlikelihood the Panthers will remain in his family.

The unknown is significant in Carolina.

The Pegula family isn't going anywhere, and as long as Beane can maintain their trust in him, then he shouldn't need to worry about the job market.

"I knew when I left the interview I could work well with the Pegulas, Russ Brandon and Sean," Brandon said. "I had no doubt I'd be able to succeed."

That's not to say the decision to leave Carolina was trouble-free. The Panthers were the only employer Beane's ever had since leaving UNC Wilmington. His parents, his wife, his two sons, his in-laws, almost all his friends were there.

And soon enough that Panthers GM job was going to pop loose.

Beane found appealing Terry and Kim Pegula's vision for the Bills and what his duties would entail. But before Beane could reach a conclusion, he needed to ask McDermott, who arrived four months earlier, one question.

"Sometimes maybe people pitch things that aren't true or are inaccurate," Beane said. "That's the thing I asked Sean: 'Is it what you thought it was?' Because you never really know until you're inside the walls.

"Sean said, 'Brandon, as a friend, I'd tell you if it wasn't. I'd tell you to stay where you're at. If they want you, then you should consider this. Trust me.' "

There's no keeping him down: How Sean McDermott ascended to coach of the Bills

Beane was given a blank canvas when he began. The Pegulas fired GM Doug Whaley, director of player personnel Jim Monos and ostensibly the whole scouting department the morning after the draft.

The purge gave Beane latitude to hire whom he wanted without thinking a wit about holdovers previously impervious to losing their jobs despite multiple regime changes.

Beane also made two sensational trades within a month of opening day. He dealt receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby to stockpile 2018 draft capital. The Bills hold six draft choices within the first three rounds next year.

Beane then traded last year's second-round pick, linebacker Reggie Ragland, for a 2019 fourth-round choice.

"I don't think you get a more proven, well-rounded person to totally fill the general manager's job," said Marty Hurney, an integral character in Beane's NFL development.

Hurney, as Carolina's general manager, mentored Beane for about 13 years until the Panthers fired Hurney in October 2012. Beane replaced him as interim GM for three months, with Gettleman hired after the season.

When the Panthers fired Gettleman this summer, they brought Hurney back as interim GM.

"Everybody wants to focus on the personnel evaluation side when it comes to a general manager," Hurney said, "and, hey, ultimately it's the talent you acquire that wins games.

"But it's your ability to make all the pieces fit, to not only know how to evaluate, but also build a roster and work with a coaching staff and the scouts and how to blend the whole organization together to work as one.

"Brandon is the true definition of a general manager and is very capable. I don't think the Bills could have made a better selection."

Driven from darkness

Beane is cutthroat when it comes to sports, and he'll find a way to turn almost any aspect of daily life into some kind of contest.

Former Bills linebacker Chris Spielman has told the story about throwing away his vibrating, electric-football players "because they were uncoachable."

Based on the yarns, it sounds like Beane's sports fury is in the same ballpark.

He was ejected from a middle-school basketball game for shoving an opponent dribbling toward an otherwise uncontested layup. As the teenaged coach of a junior high hoops squad, he was ejected from his first game for arguing with the referee. When he became interim Panthers GM in 2012, he stopped standing on the sideline and went to the press box out of concern he would berate the officials to the point of drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty or, yes, get ejected.

Opponents come and go in life. They change Sunday to Sunday in the NFL. There are friends Beane will compete against semi-regularly on the golf course or the pickup basketball court.

One person, though, has challenged him for 24 years and almost certainly will continue to do so the rest of Beane's days.

The undying foe is Beane himself, at 17 years old.

"It all comes back to that, the competitive drive," Beane said. "I never wanted to get in that dark place again."

That dark place was a spiral of depression that murdered his purpose.

Beane went into his senior season a combination quarterback-receiver. South Stanly ran a two-quarterback system, and on the third snap of the season-opening rivalry game against North Stanly, he lined up to the right for a double-slants pass play.

Jason Brown completed his pass to the left. Beane bore down on the linebacker for a midfield block. Beane's right knee buckled even though it was in a brace. He had injured his knee playing basketball the previous winter. A misdiagnosed partial ligament tear had ripped completely.

The injury wiped out Beane's senior football and basketball seasons and devastated his psyche.

"It knocked me out of my life," Beane said. "My life was sports. I went to school because I had to for sports. I was not myself for a while.

"I just blocked everybody out. I felt sorry for myself. I wasn't as good of a son as I should have been, as good of a brother as I should have been. I had a high school girlfriend I drove away.

"I was depressed. Here I was the quarterback. I was the school president. I was trying to show on the outside I was tough, but on the inside I was crushed."

New Bills general manager and former Panthers assistant GM Brandon Beane, left, and cornerback Josh Norman, right, greet one another prior to Super Bowl 50. (Photo courtesy of the Charlotte Observer)

You might read Beane's comments and roll your eyes. You could chalk up his reaction to ordinary teen angst.

But he evolved from hating his situation to hating himself. He had let the injury consume him, defeat him. A South Stanly teammate Beane described a as a similar athlete went on to play Division III football, but Beane didn't rehabilitate his knee properly and blew his chance.

A torn ligament took away his senior season, but his decision to sulk took away a potential opportunity he'll never get back.

Beane forfeited his ability to try.

"I think about it all the time," Beane said. "I would have made it. I would have actually played.

"But I gave up, and I had never given up before in my life, and I didn't know how to dig myself out of it."

Beane claimed his contempt for that phase of his life has propelled him to Buffalo.

He went to UNC Wilmington, a school that doesn't have a football program, to study English and become a coach. He switched his major to communications after realizing he could attack the sports world a different way.

Beane hammered away at Panthers assistant media relations director Bruce Speight until he received a 1998 training-camp internship and tackled all the grunt work it took to get hired full-time a year later.

"I think my knee injury ended up driving me to this," Beane said in June at the One Bills Drive offices. "I never wanted to feel that way again. I never wanted to be that person again."

Going by The Book

A common misconception about successful personnel executives is they're oracles who evaluate talent with some sort of metaphysical acumen bestowed at birth.

Beane never has been an area scout. He matured in Carolina's front office more as an expert on the collective bargaining agreement and salary cap than player evaluation.

Hurney flatly denied any notion Beane is deficient.

"Everybody thinks general managers are born with these magic eyes and find players," Hurney said. "This is a job that entails a lot of diverse talents and is about bringing everybody together and listening and not being afraid to make the hard decisions, knowing you're responsible for a lot of people."

Beane in 2013 began compiling what he refers to as his GM Book, a leatherback binder with tabs, his front-office operator's manual he showed the Pegulas.

The first page is Beane's resume followed by bullet-point philosophies on how to build a team, what Beane looks for in players, how he handles the draft, how he views free agency, the importance of medical grades and assessing players, doctors and trainers, the perfect relationship between a GM and head coach.

In Beane's initial five-hour interview with the Pegulas, he shared 30-, 60- and 90-day plans to lay out his immediate priorities as Buffalo's GM.

The most remarkable aspect of Beane's work in Buffalo so far has been his ability to amass a jarringly radiant player-personnel department.

After a decade of front offices that featured nobody other clubs would want to interview for GM jobs, Buffalo's personnel department is dotted with previous and likely future candidates.

"Look at the staff he's assembled," Hurney said. "It screams to the experience he's had.

"These are guys who are valued very highly around the league. It's not only knowing who you want, but knowing how to go about getting them."

Beane hired Joe Schoen away from the Miami Dolphins to be assistant GM. More impressive was enticing Brian Gaine away from the Houston Texans to be vice president of player personnel.

Gaine also interviewed with the Pegulas for the Bills' GM opening. Imagine the respect Gaine must have for Beane. Gaine, who has interviewed for other GM vacancies, agreed to make a lateral move to a team in a 17-year postseason famine and work for the guy who beat him out.

"I am thrilled with how it went down," Beane said. "Joe was my No. 1 guy that I set out to get. Brian was on my list, but I couldn't even talk about him during my interview.

"Brian was a bonus in the sense that I never assumed I could get him if he didn't get this job."

Beane hired director of pro personnel Malik Boyd away from the Arizona Cardinals and director of college scouting Terrance Gray away from the Minnesota Vikings.

New assistant director of college scouting Lake Dawson has interviewed for GM openings with Chicago, Miami, Tampa Bay and Carolina.

"The way he put together that staff shows his feel, his expertise for the job," Hurney said. "And to do it as quickly as he did gives a pretty good idea of what he's bringing to the table."

Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula and Bills General Manager Brandon Beane observe minicamp practice from the sidelines. (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Further, Beane's staff suggests self-assurance.

He apparently isn't paranoid about welcoming other respected minds inside One Bills Drive.

"For him to hire those people speaks to his humility and speaks to the fact he just wants to win," said Speight, now senior media relations director for the New York Jets.

"When people interact with Brandon, they get a sense they're going to get a fair shake, and it's not going to be all about his ideas, that he'll build consensus of what everybody thinks. The best idea is what he's going to go with. There's no pride of authorship."

Beane has a saying about the draft room: Everybody drops their badges. In other words, nobody pulls rank. All opinions count.

"If we nail it on a draft pick, it's not Brandon Beane," he said. "The thing Brandon did was hire the right people that helped them find the right answer.

"As we build this roster, they are not 'my guys;' they are 'our guys.' It's not about who is right as long as we get it right."

Obsessive (but with) personality

Beane's wife calls him Rain Man for his ability recall sports facts and statistics without looking them up.

She also marvels -- no, make that grumbles -- at his refusal to relax. On a scheduled day off, he might haul everything from the garage to pressure wash the inside. While at the beach, she'll prefer a fruity cocktail and a book, but Brandon must instigate sons Tyson and Wes into some sort of contest.

"When he starts talking about retirement, I'm, like, puh-lease," Hayley Beane said. "You will not play golf and be fine with it. You will be miserable, bored out of your mind."

The Beane family is in agreement Brandon's competitive streak was passed along from Bob Beane, who sells roof and floor trusses to homebuilders.

But Brandon's obsessive work ethic comes from his mother. Cindy Beane is a certified public account known for sleeping in her office during tax season. Like an NFL coach, right?

"She is one of those people that is stressed if she's not stressed," Brandon Beane said.

"So I'm probably wired ... I'm a perfectionist. I'm wired a lot like my mother, in a lot of ways."

One might think Beane is some kind of sporting automaton, programmed to compile data and plot meticulous coordinates to victory.

Those who've worked with Beane note his greatest trait is connecting with people.

"He is truly a bridge, a liaison between management and players," said three-time Pro Bowl safety, Panthers' radio analyst and Charlotte TV host Eugene Robinson.

"It's been known that behind the contract negotiations that Beaney was the glue that held things together in Carolina."

General manager Brandon Beane signs autographs after practice at training camp. (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Beane began in 1998 as a training-camp communications intern and became a season intern in player development, a department that offers finance advice, career-building for after football, continuing education and family assistance.

That role afforded Beane a crash course in forging strong player-management relationships. Beane came down from the administration tower to interact with the players in a way they appreciated.

"What you see in Brandon Beane is what you get," Donnie Shell said. "That's very critical because the players can read people."

As the Panthers' director of player development from 1994 to 2009, Shell was Beane's boss.

Shell,  a three-time All-Pro safety, won four Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He made such an impact in the Panthers' front office the NFL created the Winston/Shell Award for the year's best player-development department (Lamonte Winston, formerly with the Kansas City Chiefs, oversees the Oakland Raiders' off-field player programs.)

"I've been in the locker room," Shell said. "When someone comes in there, you know right away what their intent is, and players look at the front office" with suspicion.

"You have to be genuine with those players or they won't let you get near them or their families. You've got to earn that trust by building relationships in the locker room and at practice with the players and with their families.

"When Brandon exhibited those excellent qualities, I knew he was on his way."

Sealing the deal

A quick vignette to prove Beane is not some sports bot engineered in a tech lab ...

He was decisive, and he scripted the whole thing, but when he proposed to Hayley as sophomores at UNC Wilmington, about a year after they started dating, Brandon demonstrated a flair for romance.

"Immediate sparks were there," Hayley said of meeting Brandon at freshman orientation, but they were dating other people. "By March of our freshman year we were, like, 'OK, this is silly.' We've been together ever since."

On March 22, 1996, Brandon made his move.

Hayley shared the moment:

"He called me earlier in the week and asked if I wanted to 'go on a date' Friday. I wondered, 'Why are you calling it a date? We do things together all the time.'

"We went to Hugh McRae Park in Wilmington. We found picnic tables and ate pizza. After we ate he said, 'Let's go over to the playground.' We went over and swang a bit. There was a slide there, one of those enclosed curvy slides you can't see out of.

"He said, 'Go down that slide!' I thought it was so freaking silly, but I said, 'OK.' When I get to the bottom of the slide he's there on one knee with the ring box open.

"Then he asked me, and, of course, I cried hysterically. I didn't even look at the ring. It was very sweet."

Tied together

Truth be told, Beane's decision to leave the Panthers for the Bills wasn't entirely based on two interviews with the Pegulas and his chats with McDermott.

Brandon and Hayley perceived transcendent elements in play. As Brandon noted, "different things that were God-like that mattered."

The Beanes have a dog named Bodie. The Pegulas had a dog named Bodie.

"I mean, how many dogs are named Bodie?" Beane asked.

Tyson and Wes Beane attended Orchard Park Elementary in Fort Mill, S.C. They would enroll in Orchard Park schools here.

The Toners were the Beanes' neighbors. Don Toner, the Panthers' assistant equipment manager, is a University at Buffalo grad. Toner's wife, Joelle, also is from Western New York and sold Hayley on what otherwise might've been an intimidating switch from the temperate Carolinas.

Part of the pitch: Wegmans.

Granted, all of those neat tidbits were trivial compared to Buffalo's big picture.

Beane claimed "only a perfect scenario" could lure him and his family from Carolina. Now he, Hayley, 14-year-old Tyson, 12-year-old Wes, their mutt of unknown origin Bodie and three-legged Chihuahua mix Peanut are here.

When Beane was 17 years old, he experienced an awakening he insisted has thrust him to this place.

The Bills' playoff drought is 17 years old.

"I hated when we went three years without making the playoffs," Beane said of his old team. "So I can’t imagine 17 years, the agony."

Yet Beane left the comforts of home and moved here anyway.

The darkness he conquered as a high-school senior, the experiences he absorbed up and down the Panthers' organizational flow chart and his insatiable craving for victory, combined with Buffalo's wide-open opportunity, presented a beckoning proposition.

Nope, Beane asserted, no regrets at all.

There's no keeping him down: How Sean McDermott ascended to coach of the Bills

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