Marty Hurney blinked, chuckled, then blinked again with a half-shake of his head.
And a smile. And a promise that this time around, things will be different.
“I didn’t expect to be up here again. I know you guys are surprised,” he said from the media podium inside Bank of America Stadium on Wednesday afternoon as the new – yet not really so new – interim general manager of the Carolina Panthers. “It’s been a whirlwind last 24 hours.”
Following the shocking firing of Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman on Monday, the team hired Hurney to fill Gettleman’s place in an interim role through 2017.
As the general manager of the Panthers from 2002-12, Hurney is celebrated for bringing together what is now considered the “core” of the team, most of whom were key members of Carolina’s Super Bowl run in 2015. He drafted quarterback Cam Newton in 2011 and linebacker Luke Kuechly in 2012, executed a slick trade with Chicago for tight end Greg Olsen, drafted linebacker Thomas Davis, defensive ends Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson, running back Jonathan Stewart and center Ryan Kalil.
But Hurney also draws high criticism from his mishandling of the team’s salary cap late in his tenure, when he doled out massive contracts to running back DeAngelo Williams (five years and $43 million), linebacker Jon Beason (five years, $50 million), Johnson (six years, $72 million) and Davis (five years and $36.5 million), and for draft risks on quarterback Jimmy Clausen and trading up for receiver Armanti Edwards, both considered busts.
In fact, Gettleman was brought in specifically to clean up Carolina’s hemorrhaging salary cap, which now sits at a healthy $17 million under.
Hurney admitted to making mistakes with some of those contracts on Wednesday.
“I think I’ve learned from those mistakes,” he said. “I think the biggest thing, and it’s a general thing, is making sure the analytical part of my brain takes over the emotional part of my brain. ...
“When you work with people so closely, you’re going to create bonds with those people. You’re going to create loyalties. And when I look back, and I look back at some of the mistakes, it might have been that loyalty, the emotional part of my brain takes over, then a lot of times that’s not good. So I think the analytical part has to be there.”
‘Reuniting with an old friend’
Hurney, who has lived in Charlotte since his previous tenure with Carolina ended and who runs the ESPN radio affiliate in the city, got a message from a friend on Monday about the news of Gettleman’s firing.
That afternoon, he got a call from team owner/founder Jerry Richardson’s office, asking if Hurney could meet. Hurney said seeing Richardson was like “reuniting with an old friend,” and that there was no need to make the meeting a long one because of their mutual trust.
Hurney confirmed that not only will he help Carolina find a long-term solution at general manager over the course of the next season, he also has full control of the roster for both the short and long term. That means contracts such as those of guard Trai Turner and veterans Greg Olsen and Thomas Davis are under his jurisdiction.
Both Olsen and Davis have been in the spotlight for wanting extensions in recent weeks. Widespread speculation surfaced that Gettleman’s handling of those situations, plus his brusque “bedside manner” in the release of fan-favorite players such as receiver Steve Smith and corner Josh Norman in years past – both of which became nasty public spats – were partially to blame for his firing.
Davis told WCNC on Tuesday that he and the front office are currently in contract discussions, but that “it’s really sad and disappointing when you hear all the people that (are) saying that the reason Mr. Gettleman was released was because of me or Greg.”
‘He ... understands the culture’
Richardson released a 53-word statement on Wednesday that specifically addressed how Hurney fits.
“He worked with us for 15 years and understands the culture we have here,” said Richardson. “He had a lot to do with the core of our team being in place. I’m thankful that he is willing to help us in this transition period.”
But specific details of the reasoning behind Gettleman’s firing were not expanded upon by either Hurney or head coach Ron Rivera, who was present for Hurney’s press conference.
Hurney said that he and Richardson only discussed “now, moving forward.”
“But I can tell you this,” he added. “Rash decisions aren’t made. ... Everything is about winning football games, and when you’re an owner, a general manager, analyzing what has to be done to give you the best chance of doing so.”
Head coach Ron Rivera, who stood on the perimeter of the room during Hurney’s press conference, did not elaborate either when asked. Rivera found out Monday about Gettleman’s firing as well.
Hurney and Rivera met immediately after Wednesday’s press conference to go over the roster. The team opens training camp in Spartanburg next week, a place all-too-familiar for Hurney.
“There’s a lot to do,” he laughed. “I’ve thought about sleeping on that dorm bed, never thought I was going to have to do that again. But I’m excited to go.”