It was Brandon Beane’s big chance. The Buffalo Bills had contacted his agent, saying the owners wanted to hire the 40-year-old native of Norwood, North Carolina to become the 13th General Manager in the history of the National Football League franchise.
Beane had the qualifications, working 19 years in the Carolina Panthers organization, and he was the Assistant General Manager to Dave Gettleman. Beane had served as the Panthers’ GM on an interim basis during the 2012 season, and the team went 6-4 in the ten games during his tenure. But Beane was also a husband, and father of two boys ages 13 and 11. Moving would mean uprooting their lives along with his.
“Once I told them I had accepted this job and we were going to move, my older one was crushed,” Beane says remembering back to May 2017. “He cried on and off for an hour. I mean, that was hard. It puts doubt into you, you know. Was this the right move? I felt like I couldn’t include them in the decision on this. They knew I was interviewing. But I felt like I wasn’t going to make as clear a decision because I knew where their thoughts were going to be, and rightfully so. I probably would have said the same thing at their age.”
Eight months since making the move, Beane says his two sons have now adjusted to life in the new city. It helps, he says, that both boys play football. He says they love the snow, which is good because the Buffalo-area gets its’ share of the white stuff. There is a positive atmosphere around the team as well, with the Bills going to the AFC playoffs in Beane’s first season as GM, ending a drought that stretched back to 1999.
A year before that Bills’ most recent playoff appearance, Brandon Beane graduated from UNC Wilmington with a degree in communications. He’d played football at South Stanly High School outside of Charlotte, but a torn ACL hurt his chances of suiting up on the college level. Beane’s love of sports had him eying a potential career in coaching, starting with a high school program with the long-term goal of landing a college job.
“During my sophomore year, I came to this revelation that I wanted to go into pro sports,” Beane says. “So, I changed majors and just went with a broad field of communication studies to not limit myself what I could do in sports, whether it was marketing, management, public relations, and was just going to start networking in that field, which is what I then started.”
Beane got a summer internship with the Carolina Panthers after graduating from UNCW. When that four-week stint ended, Beane had a chance at landing a full-season internship position with the team. He had already received an offer to become a reporter for the Charlotte Business Journal covering the city’s NBA franchise. The reporting job paid about $30,000 a year. The full-season internship paid about $5 an hour. When the Panthers came through with the second internship opportunity, Brandon told his soon-to-be-wife Hayley he was taking the lower-paying football opportunity to chase his dream. He talks about her reaction to the decision at 7:00 of the podcast.
“She was cool,” Beane says with a smile. “She knew that’s where I wanted to be. She knew my passion for sports, the only thing I ever had on at the house was ESPN trying to keep up. She’d been around me enough to know how passionate I was in high school playing sports. That was what I really wanted to do. She was good with it.”
I heard the word passion several times during the conversation with Brandon Beane. It drove his decision to take the internship opportunity with the Panthers. It drove his desire to defeat his older sister playing sports around the family’s home near Charlotte. It comes up when he speaks to college students, like he did recently while visiting his college alma mater.
“It’s all about passion,” he says. “I felt like I would have liked the job I was interviewing for with the Business Journal. I knew I would love the opportunity to work in the NFL. It was a no-brainer, as hard as it is to say.”
The internships turned into a job with the Panthers, beginning in the communication department. Beane remembers the early days writing press releases before making the transition into football operations. He began building relationships with franchise veterans like Jackie Miles, the Panthers’ Head Equipment Manager, as a way to learn the inner-workings of the organization.
“He saw how serious I was,” Beane says about Miles, who still holds the position with the Panthers. “I started helping him, when I got done with my regular work I would go down and fold towels for him and really just ask him about his life in the business. We had some open talks, and midway through my intern season, he asked and got permission so I could travel on road games. On road games I would be a quasi-equipment guy helping to suit guys up, do whatever, help with the laundry. Even though that’s not necessarily glamorous work, it showed me another side of the business.”
Another side of the business Beane saw on the way up the ladder in Carolina, and later become responsible for, are the decisions that affect players’ lives. Early in his career Beane was around the same age as many of the men trying to make the team. He would pick them up at the airport, get them to tryouts or physical exams, and learn their personal stories. Not all those potential Panthers ended up on the roster. Many were told their talents are not what’s needed to make the team.
“That’s hard, because most of them are good guys and they care,” he says. “You know, sometimes guys get teary eyed, or maybe they know it’s the end if it’s an older veteran. You know your decision is affecting them. That’s hard. The thing I found is, you have to be honest with them. Don’t try to BS them, tell them exactly the way you see it. Even if they’re mad when they walk out the door, I’ve found most times when you run into them down the road they respect you, and they’re glad to see you again.”
Beane was Assistant General Manager when Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson fired GM Marty Hurney after the team lost five of its’ first six games during the 2012 season. Beane thought the positives of his performance during the final ten games would be enough to get the top job. Instead Richardson hired Gettleman to be the General Manager.
“It really crushed me, to be honest with you,” Beane says. “I felt like I had made a connection with Coach (Ron) Rivera, and we started 1-5. Believe me, it wasn’t because of me that we went 6-4, but I did feel that I had some play in that, some of the roster decisions we made. I was very candid with Ron Rivera on some things that I thought were going well, and some things that I thought needed to change. We formed a very good bond. He appreciated that, and that’s the thing he tells me every time I talk to him.”
Beane landed interviews for two GM positions after the 2016 NFL season. He talked to executives of the San Francisco 49ers, but in January 2017 the team hired John Lynch, a former player who was working as an analyst with Fox. Months later, Beane was the first of four candidates to interview for the Bills’ job. He talks about the differences in his interview performances at 22:00 of the podcast.
“I was trying too hard to win that (San Francisco) job,” Beane recalls. “I was trying to give them the perfect answer instead of the real answer. People have laughed at me, but I’ve explained this to a group before, it was kind of like that first date. I was trying to overly impress and not show who I really was. It might be better that I didn’t get that job. When I interviewed in Buffalo, I was able to take over the interview.”
Brandon is very complimentary of the people he worked with and learned from in the Carolina Panthers’ organization. From owner Jerry Richardson, to GMs Dave Gettleman and Marty Hurney, and head coach Ron Rivera, Beane credits each one with having a positive impact on his development. We talked about a lot of things, from players kneeling during the National Anthem to the type of player this General Manager wants on Buffalo’s roster (ultra-competitive and good character) to his plans on visiting the beach during a future trip to Wilmington. I appreciate Brandon taking time from a busy schedule to talk with me, and I know you will enjoy this engaging interview.
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