Sometimes in the NFL, a decision is as boring and uninspiring as it seems from the outside.
The Panthers re-hired interim general manager Marty Hurney full time on Wednesday, reinstalling the architect of three winning seasons and two .500 campaigns between 2002 and ’12. It’s a move that is not unfamiliar across the NFL landscape—a knee-jerk reaction to tether the franchise to the only sturdy flagpole in town before the wind picks up.
We saw it when the Rams extended Jeff Fisher before moving to Los Angeles or when Washington extended Jay Gruden while they attempted to shove their one-time general manager out the door. People like stability, and as they brace for new ownership in Carolina, they apparently like Hurney too.
His legacy as Panthers general manager is complicated. He built one Super Bowl team and a large part of the foundation for another run in 2015 under his GM replacement Dave Gettleman. He hired Ron Rivera and drafted Cam Newton, Josh Norman and Luke Kuechly. He also drafted Jimmy Clausen and signed Jake Delhomme to a five-year contract at age 34, only to cut him a year later. His bungling of the salary cap, including the decision to dump truckloads of money into the running back position, left Gettleman hamstrung for a few seasons after his arrival in Carolina.
He was also hired, fired and re-hired by Jerry Richardson, who is selling the team following a Sports Illustrated investigation into a corrosive workplace environment.
It’s the latter part of that legacy which prompted the raised-eyebrow reaction to Hurney’s full-time gig Wednesday. But people complaining should ask themselves: What else was Carolina going to do?
Nevermind that teams don’t think outside the box anymore. The Panthers interviewed three other talented individuals—Jimmy Raye III, Lake Dawson and Martin Mayhew—for the position, but it always seemed they were destined to confront the reality of their situation: Without any idea of who will own the team in just a few months and without any clue how long it will take to sanitize the team’s reputation, is there any way to truly sell someone on this opportunity?
General manager candidates are not like coaching candidates, who sometimes scramble blindly into minefields because there are, after all, only 32 of these jobs on earth. Look at Eric Decosta in Baltimore or George Paton in Minnesota. Almost every year for the past five offseasons (or more) they’ve been content working under the head general manager, passing up opportunities to run some of the league’s premiere franchises. If either Raye, Dawson or Mayhew was given the opportunity to turn this job down, they were smart to. What’s the point in scarring a potentially bright future without a guarantee at a fair shake?
As the NFL becomes more (painfully) insular, we’re going to see more of this maneuvering both for better and worse. Distant owners, or in this case ousted owners, will cling to what they know best. Smart potential applicants will recognize which way the wind is blowing and stay put. Good franchises with a positive ethos will continue winning more than they lose, and middling franchises will continue to be middling until they stumble on a four-leaf clover or dive into a complete tailspin.
Hurney, who has seen his teams reach both Super Bowls and 2-14 records, is apparently best equipped to handle it either way.