SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - From Catawba College: "The margin of winning and losing in the NFL is like that," gestured Carolina Panthers' Team President Danny Morrison as he held up his hand, with his thumb held very close to touching his index finger. "I knew it was hard to win [in the NFL] but I didn't know how hard."
Morrison delivered the keynote address at Catawba College's 12th annual CEO Lecture, sponsored by the Ralph W. Ketner School of Business, on April 14 in Hedrick Little Theatre on campus.
Morrison is responsible for the Panthers business operations and Bank of America Stadium business interests, in addition to representing the organization in many NFL matters. Morrison assumed his role with the Panthers in September 2009, but his journey to land that position began years before when he was a student at Wofford College. He lettered four years in basketball there, graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1975 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and an acquaintance with Wofford alumnus Jerry Richardson.
Morrison shared that he had first met Richardson, a former NFL player turned co-founder of Spartan Foods, when Richardson and his wife invited Morrison and his fellow Wofford teammates to their house for Thanksgiving dinner. It was that initial acquaintance that came back to figure in Morrison's professional life decades after it occurred. Today, Morrison serves as steward of Richardson's vision for his NFL franchise.
Richardson, Morrison said, is in fact one of his two mentors. The other is Dr. Joab Mauldin Lesesne Jr. Lesesne served as president of Wofford for 28 years and taught a class that Morrison took there during his freshman year. Both men helped shape Morrison and both hired him to work for them. Lesesne hired Morrison in 1985 to serve as athletic director at Wofford, a role he held until 1997 before becoming senior vice president until 2001. It was during the 1990s that the Panthers began holding their training camp at Wofford.
Richardson and Lesesne share some truths, Morrison noted. Both men are who they are with great values, he said, and "they do it in their own way." Both care about people and display an unusual calmness in a crisis. Both have integrity and a trust factor that goes along with that.
Of Lesesne, Morrison said: "He planted seeds and got to see them germinate. Risks and progress were complementary variables with him."
Richardson, he explained, has five core values: "hard work, harmony, teamwork, listening, and respect."
He shared several stories about Richardson, including his propensity to carry only felt tip pens for ease in writing on or providing his signature on the paper napkins found in Hardee's outlets (Spartan Foods was the first franchisee of Hardee's) to customers and fans. "There are a lot of framed napkins out there," he said.
Morrison recalled Richardson staying back when his NFL team traveled to play in Arizona so he could attend the funeral of a Panthers' fan he did not know. That fan, from Pinehurst, had died of a heart attack in a parking lot after he attended a Panthers' game and Richardson felt it important to pay tribute to him.
A native of Burlington, N.C., Morrison served as Commissioner of the Southern Conference between 2001 and 2005 after he left Wofford. From 2005 until 2009, he worked as Athletic Director for Texas Christian University. He compared his experience in professional sports with his experience in collegiate sports.
"What happens in college is the better you do, the better you recruit, the better you fundraise, and the better your program. In the NFL, the better you do, the worse your recruiting is."
He likened professional football's salary cap to how collegiate coaches operate in offering their key recruits scholarships – "You take the pie and carve it up," he said.
Morrison earned his Master of Education degree in administration and supervision from UNC Chapel Hill in 1981 and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of South Carolina in 2000. He was inducted into the Wofford Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002 and currently serves on Wofford's Board of Trustees.
When he was introduced at the CEO Lecture by his friend and Catawba alumnus Ken Carrick '82, Carrick noted that Morrison is probably the only individual serving as president of an NFL team with an earned doctorate.
Catawba alumnus and broadcaster Joey Popp '77 emceed the event and moderated questions for Morrison after his remarks. Several questions included:
When will we see a Super Bowl in Charlotte and what are limiting factors to hosting one?
Morrison said the limiting factors right now include lack of hotel rooms available and other infrastructure needs that have not been met. Bank of America Stadium, he noted, "would be fabulous" and he described it as "a classic American stadium in a park."
Will the Panthers move from Charlotte?