Marty Hurney doesn’t want any credit for this Super Bowl-bound Carolina Panthers team, but he deserves it.
Of the 10 players voted to the Pro Bowl, eight of them are with Carolina because of Hurney.
He helped tab Ron Rivera as the head coach. He drafted Cam Newton when plenty of draft experts pumped fear into fans. He took Luke Kuechly the next year even though he had a three-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker in Jon Beason.
But earlier this week, Hurney was gracious in denying the interview request.
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“I don’t want to be that guy,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s the guys in the building there day to day. They all deserve it.”
The Panthers fired Hurney in October 2012 when Carolina was 1-5 and heading for another losing season. Since then he has bought a radio station in town and has his own show at ESPN 730 AM. (Full disclosure: I’m a regular guest on the drive-time program.)
But Hurney deserves credit after years of being a punching bag for fans. Yes, he threw too much money (five years, $42.5 million contract in 2009) at Jake Delhomme when Delhomme’s best years were behind him.
He followed that up by giving $36.5 million and $43 million contracts to two running backs just as the NFL was becoming more of a passing league. And part of the reason new general manager Dave Gettleman had to shop at the dollar store for free agents in his first two years was because Hurney helped put the team in a bad salary cap position.
But this is how All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman tells it.
“Marty means everything if you really look at what he’s done before he ended up leaving,” Norman said. “Shoot, pretty much all the guys who are really ballin’ were from his era and how he got guys here.”
He’s not entirely wrong.
Hurney drafted the soon-to-be league MVP. He drafted and retained the team’s leading rusher (Jonathan Stewart), All-Pro center (Ryan Kalil) and All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis. Hurney also traded for the team’s leading receiver (Greg Olsen) and signed fullback Mike Tolbert before being shown the door.
The Panthers under Gettleman the past three seasons have been able to lock up some of those key guys. Newton, Olsen, Davis and Kuechly all signed contract extensions in the offseason.
“He gave me my opportunity,” Rivera said. “There are a number of players who are here because of him.
“You could point to that. Then you turn around and look at what Dave’s been able to do with the salary cap and how Dave’s been able to lock up the franchise players. You could say the stamp was Marty getting them here and Dave’s got these guys here for good.”
Hurney’s modesty isn’t fake. He presided over the 2003 Panthers team that went to Super Bowl XXXVIII and knows how difficult it is to get there.
“Dave and Ron and everybody in that building, they’re the ones who got it done,” Hurney said. “Winning games is what you’re there for, and they won three NFC South titles now, they have had the best season in the history of the franchise. Look at the last three drafts. Talk about building through the draft.
“How many low-risk, high-reward guys can you name on that roster that have made significant impact? I admire what they’ve all done there. When you’re in the building and you have to put out the fires, make the decisions day to day, that’s what determines success.”