When he met with Jerry Richardson on Sunday night, after the Carolina Panthers latest loss, Marty Hurney said the teams owner asked him two questions.
How did the Panthers get to 1-5, and what were they going to do to get better?
And honestly, I had a hard time answering that, Hurney said.
Richardson informed Hurney on Monday morning he was firing him, ending Hurneys 10-year run as the NFL teams general manager. His tenure included the teams only Super Bowl appearance and two trips to NFC Championship Games.
But the Panthers never had consecutive winning seasons under Hurney, a former sportswriter who joined the organization in 1998 before being promoted to general manager in 2002.
Hurney spoke highly of Richardson on Monday, saying there is no one in the organization he was closer with. But he also pointed to what he called the teams losing environment and questioned the leadership among the players. And he said this parting was not mutual.
Its simple. Were 1-5. Were 1-3 at home. We laid an egg at home against the Giants in front of national TV, Hurney said. Weve come back the last two weeks and lost against teams (Seattle and Dallas) we all felt like we had an opportunity to beat.
It cant continue to go this way.
The Panthers have the worst record in the NFC this season. Their 9-29 mark since the start of 2010 is the worst in the league over that span.
This was an extremely difficult decision, Richardson said in a statement released by the team. Marty made every effort to bring success to the Panthers and took the team to a Super Bowl and two NFC Championship games. Unfortunately, we have not enjoyed the success we hoped for in recent years. I have the greatest respect and admiration for Marty and will always appreciate the way he tirelessly served the organization.
Richardson was not available for further comment.
Hurney, 56, has been working without a contract, so the team is under no obligation to pay him a buyout.
The team did not name an interim general manager. Personnel decisions will be a collaborative effort handled principally by head coach Ron Rivera and the director of pro scouting, Mark Koncz.
Rivera said he would have the final say.
The rest of the front office and the scouting department probably will remain intact through the season. NFL rules prohibit teams from interviewing officials with other teams until after the season.
After last years 6-10 season that saw quarterback Cam Newton win AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, there were high hopes for the Panthers. Center Ryan Kalil took out a full-page ad in the Observer in July promising a Super Bowl title.
But after losing four of their first five games, the Panthers held organizational meetings last week, when the team had a bye, to try to figure out what was wrong.
Hurney said he had a feeling if the Panthers didnt play well Sunday against Dallas, he would be gone.
Shortly after the Panthers 19-14 loss to the Cowboys their fourth this season by six points or fewer Hurney huddled with Richardson for two hours. The two spoke again early Monday morning.
By 8:30, Richardson was on the phone with Rivera, telling him Hurney had been fired.
The hardest thing about this is my record for the season is a final record of 1-5. And anybody that knows me knows thats a hard one to live with, Hurney said. And (Richardson) knows, I have a lot of confidence in my ability. This is about, in my mind, having to make changes to change an atmosphere that really has become a losing environment.
From 2002 to 2009, the Panthers made the playoffs three times, including two NFC Championship Games and the teams lone Super Bowl appearance. But the Panthers trimmed their player payroll in 2010, when Richardson let John Fox coach through a lame-duck season.
The result was a 2-14 record, the first pick in the draft (used on Newton) and a new coach.
What didnt change was the losing environment.
It just seems like when you get in a situation where you lose close games, the teams tend to lose close games throughout the season. And the teams that win close games do it, Hurney said. So somebodys got to step up and say enough is enough. Because when it comes down to those games and it comes down to those plays, I think its a matter of confidence.
Hurney stuck to a philosophy of building through the NFL draft. He seldom made a splash with other teams players in free agency, opting to spend money retaining the Panthers proven players.
Hurneys record with first-round picks was solid, producing five Pro Bowlers defensive end Julius Peppers, offensive tackle Jordan Gross, running back DeAngelo Williams, linebacker Jon Beason and Newton. His second-round picks didnt pan out as well. Only four remain Kalil, Sherrod Martin, Amini Silatolu and Jimmy Clausen, the ex-Notre Dame quarterback who personified the teams 2010 struggles.
Among Hurneys most controversial decisions was trading up to select Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards in the third round in 2010. The second-round pick the Panthers gave up wound up being the 33rd overall choice.
Following the lockout, the Panthers locked up six of their core players with contract extensions totaling $152 million in guaranteed money. It began with the six-year, $76 million deal they gave to defensive end Charles Johnson a year after losing Peppers to Chicago in free agency.
Hurney re-signed Williams to a $43 million extension last year, and retained backfield mate Jonathan Stewart this year with a $36.5 million extension, giving them a big commitment to two backs who have combined for 319 rushing yards this season.
Hurney declined to discuss how Riveras staff has used the two backs.
I think the big picture is more significant, he said. Basically, I think winning is contagious and losing is contagious. You cant allow losing to become a habit. When you start winning, all of those things take care of themselves. It all falls into place.
Some players reacted strongly to the news of Hurneys firing. Johnson went on Twitter to denounce the move.
Marty wasnt the reason we are losing! ... Unbelievable! Johnson posted on his Twitter feed.
Gross said the move showed Richardsons desire to win.
Hes not going to sit around and hope for change. Hes going to make stuff happen, Gross said. Starting out 1-5, that definitely puts more pressure on all of us to do our job.
Rivera said there could be more changes if things dont turn around.
If (firing an assistant coach) is what has to happen eventually, then yeah. Maybe thats what happens, Rivera said. Do we cut players? Yeah. Maybe thats what well have to do. Were evaluating everything as we go forward.
As for Hurney, he said he was too emotional Monday to discuss his future. As several reporters said good-bye to Hurney at the end of a conference call, the former sportswriter lightened the mood.
Its not like Im dead, he said.