Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson began the week by making a mistake. He did not compound it by making a second one.
Bringing back Marty Hurney as interim general manager after Richardson’s 11th-hour decision to dump Dave Gettleman was the only move Richardson could make with training camp starting in a week.
As temp workers go, you could do a lot worse than finding someone with 10-plus years of experience as a GM in your organization, with a Super Bowl appearance on his resume.
It was also convenient that Hurney still lived in town and maintained close ties with Richardson and just about everyone else with the team, including the head coach he hired and the six captains he was responsible for acquiring.
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As Ron Rivera, who worked with Hurney for parts of two seasons, said of his old/new colleague: “I think we’ve got the right guy at the right time for the situation and circumstances we’re in.”
The Panthers found themselves in desperate circumstances because Richardson waited too long to cut ties with Gettleman, who oversaw the only NFC South team to win three consecutive division titles and had the Panthers in the Super Bowl 18 months ago.
If Richardson and a prominent player or two had grown tired of Gettleman’s gruff bedside manner, it would have helped if he’d reached that conclusion in April, before Brandon Beane was off to Buffalo.
But he didn’t, so Richardson did what any of us would have in a tough situation: He turned to someone he knew and trusted.
Things moved quickly. Hurney fielded a call from a team official Monday and Tuesday he was at Richardson’s south Charlotte home Tuesday, where he agreed to take on his old job again.”
“It didn’t have to be a long meeting,” Hurney said. “Because there’s that trust there.”
Hurney was the GM from 2002 until October 2012, when he and Richardson agreed to mutually part ways after the Panthers got off to another slow start.
Hurney, 61, took a break, bought a sports radio station, but never stopped caring about the Panthers.
Heart over head
The knock on Hurney during his first go-round was that he cared too much about players, and then compensated them at a rate greater than market price.
A refreshingly candid Hurney on Wednesday conceded that he sometimes let his heart get the best of him.
“I look back at some of the mistakes, it might have been that loyalty, the emotional part of my brain – and that’s when I’ve got in trouble in my life. I have a big mouth sometimes,” he said. “When the emotional part of my brain takes over, that’s not good a lot of times.”
Yes, Hurney paid two running backs at a time when most teams weren’t paying one and his final four seasons did not include a winning record.
But for a guy who began his career as a – ahem – sports writer, Hurney had a pretty good eye for talent.
He drafted or traded for a league MVP (Cam Newton), a Defensive Player of the Year (Luke Kuechly), a future Hall of Fame pass rusher (Julius Peppers) and Pro Bowlers Thomas Davis, Ryan Kalil, Greg Olsen and Jonathan Stewart – all of whom are still (or back) on the roster.
“You hear about the salary cap and there were some contract issues you look back and say, ‘OK, did we make a mistake there?’” Hurney said. “But if you look, we had a lot of good players, too. So I don’t want to lose all that. We want to have the ability to sign those good players.”
A different cap situation
The Panthers were $16 million over the cap when Gettleman was hired after the 2012 season. Hurney inherits a roster sitting $17 million below the cap, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to start throwing money around.
Hurney indicated he planned to sit down with Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner, who has an expiring contract, as well as Olsen and Davis.
“I think you explain what’s best for the team and the organization,” Hurney said. “Knowing a lot of the players that are here, they understand that.”
Those kind of talks weren’t necessarily Gettleman’s strong suit. Gettleman, a career scout until four years ago, didn’t pull punches when it came to contract negotiations and his assessments of players.
But it appears Gettleman drew his final line in the sand with Davis, the 34-year-old linebacker/community pillar who wants to play beyond this season when his contract expires.
Hurney – like Beane – is a bridge-builder who is universally liked throughout the building. It shouldn’t take him long to repair the rifts that were said to have formed between Gettleman and the locker room and coaches offices.
“I think one of my strengths is dealing with people and I do have a familiarity with a lot of people here,” Hurney said. “Anytime you’re leading or managing you have to have that ability to communicate with people. Not only talk to people, but listen to people. So I do think that’s a strength and I’m hoping that’s one of the reasons I’m here.”
But Hurney’s also here to win.
And while he signed a one-year contract and kept emphasizing Wednesday that his is an interim role, you think he’s going to give up the gig if the Panthers go 10-6 and make the playoffs?
But if the Panthers fall flat and finish south of .500 again, Hurney will help lead the search for his successor.
Either way, Rivera’s right: Hurney is the right man for this odd time in Panthers history.