SAN FRANCISCO — The most interesting man on Radio Row isn’t even technically here. Walk past Jim Rome on the CBS set and away from Colin Cowherd and Fox; ignore Drew Brees doing a TV interview and Joe Theismann talking into a camera on his way out the door. Sit down one table away from Dan Marino and two away from Brian Billick.
The crew from ESPN 730 in Charlotte is here, even though Marty Hurney is not. So put on a headset and listen.
Hurney owns ESPN 730 and hosts a daily radio show, “Inside the Lines.” That means that he spends a lot of time talking about the Panthers, a team he knows quite a bit about, as he was their general manager for 10 years until they fired him six games into the 2012 season. Now here are the Panthers, 17–1 and favored to beat the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. And here is Hurney, spending three hours a day, five days a week essentially giving a toast at his ex-wife’s wedding.
“We have a jam-packed show for you today,” he says, as the show kicks off. “And today’s lineup is brought to you by American Burger Company. If you like good food, if you like good company, go to American Burger Company.”
Hurney drafted the Panthers’ quarterback, Cam Newton, and their two best defensive players, Josh Norman and Luke Kuechly. He does not bring this up. He prefers to praise his replacement, current GM Dave Gettleman.
“There is a veteran there in every unit’s room to help the young guys,” Hurney says. “It helps to have that veteran leadership in the meeting room. He has done so many good things.”
Molly Cotten, ESPN 730’s 23-year-old Panthers reporter, puts on her headset.
“Molly, you had a chance that not many people have,” Hurney says on the air. “You got Dave Gettleman kind of one-on-one for a couple of minutes.”
It is true: Cotten talked to Gettleman, the Panthers’ general manager, for two-and-a-half minutes Monday night. Cotten points out that Hurney was once the Panthers’ general manager at a Super Bowl media day, before they played the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII, but Hurney jokes, “I think I blocked that whole experience out.”
Gettleman told Cotten about his relationship with coach Ron Rivera, which he likens to a blind date. That's because Gettleman did not hire Rivera. Hurney did. But Hurney does not mention this either. He just praises Gettleman for keeping the coach.
“A lot of guys would have felt like they had to make sweeping changes,” Hurney says. “He did what he does: He evaluated, he listened. The product that he and Ron Rivera and their staffs have put together, you don’t see seasons like this very often in the NFL.”
Who does this? Who spends three hours a day, five days a week, telling the world how wonderful his replacement is? It’s one thing to take the high road. It’s quite another to park there and smile while strangers pull up and take your picture.
“That was such a great interview, Molly,” Hurney says, when the two-and-a-half minute clip is over. “Dave Gettleman is one of the funniest guys I know, and he and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He waited a long time for his shot and got it in 2013. Everybody you talk to in that building admires him.”
The conversation turns to Newton, the likely NFL MVP this year. If you watch Newton win NFL games with his arms, legs and moxie, and you remember his Heisman-winning campaign at Auburn, you might think he was an obvious choice as the No. 1 pick in the 2011 Draft. He was not. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had him ranked 15th on his final rankings, one spot behind Blaine Gabbert. Hurney took Newton No. 1. He does not mention this, either, but Cotten does.
“When you drafted him …” Cotten says to Hurney, before catching herself: “You’re probably rolling your eyes back there at the Essex Homes Studios.”
Hurney started his career as a sportswriter. He may finish it as a radio host. Every Monday, he holds a staff meeting where the ESPN 730 crew eats complimentary food from one of its sponsors, Dilworth Neighborhood Grille, and talks about the week ahead. If Hurney ever feels bitter, he never shows it. If he ever thinks he should still be the Panthers’ general manager, he never says it.
On the air, he thanks Red Wing shoes (“built to fit, built to last”) and Fred Caldwell Chevrolet, and “this hour’s sponsor: Essex Homes, the key to better living.” He praises Gettleman, Rivera and the owner who fired him, Jerry Richardson, for having “the patience to let the coffee brew.”
He introduces his next guest: David Newton, ESPN’s Panthers beat writer. Hurney quizzes him about how the Panthers have handled the hype so far. David Newton tells a funny story about Cam Newton and answers questions about Kuechly and Rivera and Jared Allen, and at the end of the interview, Hurney says, “David, listen, we know you’re busy. Thanks a lot.”
Newton responds by joking that he is trying to get Hurney another general manager job.
Hurney says: “Ehhhh, stop that. See, we should have said goodbye the first time. Thanks, David.”
Hurney airs an interview with Panthers offensive line coach John Matsko, whom he hired. He does not mention that. Matsko says he thinks Panthers center Ryan Kalil will be a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday. Hurney drafted Kalil. He does not mention that, either.
He does tell listeners that hour No. 3 is brought to you by Empire Pizza and Bar, “with locations in Fort Mill, Rock Hill, and Newport, South Carolina.” At the end of the show, Hurney sounds even more energized than he was at the beginning.
“This three hours has flown,” he says. “I’m telling you, we have had a lot of good stuff.”
And speaking of good stuff: How about those Panthers?
“They have depth on the defensive and offensive lines,” Hurney tells listeners. “That’s where you win and lose games. I’ll tell you, if you know Dave Gettleman, you couldn’t be happier for him, because he is one of the nicest men. He and Ron Rivera are not only two of the best at their jobs in the NFL, they are two of the nicest men I know.”
The show ends. I text Hurney. I tell him I listened to the show, and I am writing a column about him. He calls me back as a courtesy and says, “I’d rather not be quoted.”