The Carolina Panthers GM on his journey and what lies ahead for the team he helped build and is ready to lead again. Plus mailbag items on the gun debate
There was Carolina general manager Marty Hurney, in Indianapolis on Tuesday afternoon, preparing to start work on the combine. “Got an 8:15 meeting tonight with a prospect,” he said. “Really excited about every facet of this job—but this part of it, at the combine, is so important.”
What a long strange trip it’s been for Hurney. In brief:
• Oct. 22, 2012: Hurney, following a 12-year run as Panthers’ GM, is fired by owner Jerry Richardson when Carolina starts 1-5.
• July 19, 2017: After dabbling as a sports radio host, Hurney is brought back as interim GM, replacing the fired Dave Gettleman. A release from the team says Hurney “will help the team identify its next general manager.”
• Dec. 17, 2017: Hurney retains his interim role when Richardson, after a Sports Illustrated story describes significant inappropriate workplace by the owner, announces he will sell the team.
• Feb. 6, 2018: The Panthers place Hurney on leave while the NFL investigates charges of harassment by his ex-wife.
• Feb. 16, 2018: The league clears Hurney of all charges after his ex-wife withdraws her complaint and the league finds no evidence of harassment. The team ponders which of four GM candidates, including Hurney, it will hire as permanent GM.
• Feb. 21, 2018: The Panthers name Hurney general manager.
“I have never heard of something like this,” said Gil Brandt, 84, who has worked in and around the NFL since 1958. “I can’t ever remember a GM getting fired, coming back as interim GM, then getting rehired. I doubt it’s ever happened.”
“It’s … a little different,” said Hurney, a former sportswriter. “It’s probably never happened before. But it just feels like a great fit now.”
Hurney would not speak of the harassment charge, or of anything about that part of this story. He did not want to speak about the Richardson situation. He did speak about what he’d learned over the past five years, and his plans for a team in a very competitive division, with a difficult cap situation, and some uncertainty ahead.
One of the truly amazing things about the job Hurney inherits: Football moves so fast, and there is a consistent impermanence to the game, with coaches and players changing at breakneck speed. But the day he was fired, his three most important decisions as GM were power players on the Panthers: coach Ron Rivera, quarterback Cam Newton, and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. When he walked back into the full-time job last week, the keystones remained Rivera, Newton and Kuechly.
It’s forgotten, and shouldn’t be, that Hurney, in successive first rounds (2011 and 2012) picked Newton and Kuechly. And he ran the search that ended in the selection of Rivera in January 2011.
“I think I have more perspective, more patience and a better feel for fitting all the pieces together than I had the first time around,” Hurney said. “There’s a design the best GMs use. I feel like in this league, it starts with a franchise quarterback and a franchise middle linebacker, and we have both of them.
“I think fit is so important. Say each position, for us, has three to five important positional traits. I think I’ve learned now you don’t have to have a guy with four to five of those at every position. That’s going to be tough to get that many players like that. But you have a guy with one or two, and you can put those players in position to maximize exactly what they do well, and you build with other players around them.”
Hurney actually started the building of this team in his interim term, trading productive and dangerous wideout Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo for third- and seventh-round picks in this year’s draft. That was a move about speed. The Panthers moved another big receiver, 6-4 Devin Funchess, into Benjamin’s “X” receiver spot. Carolina is likely to play 2017 second-round pick Curtis Samuel, a speed threat, on the opposite side of Funchess, with another speed guy, Christian McCaffrey, moving between the backfield and the slot, mostly. Hurney will likely add one more young speed player on the flank before the fall.
“I really want to increase speed on both sides of the ball,” Hurney said. “On defense, with the game changing and quarterbacks getting the ball out of their hands faster than ever, I want to make sure we have good [pass-] rushers all over the line.”
Hurney said he “resigned” to probably not getting another GM chance after five years out. I think it’s obvious that one of the things he did well in his absence is keep a very low profile. He never criticized Gettleman. He never took too much (or any) praise for drafting Julius Peppers, Newton or Kuechly. When the Panthers got to the Super Bowl 25 months ago, you didn’t see stories with Hurney taking a bow for anything.
That fits well in the Panthers’ understated organization. And so it was easy for Richardson to reach back into his past after five years and ask Hurney to be his caretaker last July. That’s probably the biggest reason why Hurney is back, and back in power: He never burned a bridge, and was dutifully quiet in his time out of football. He knew, whether it be in Carolina or somewhere else, one thing owners hate is credit-taking.
“I’m fortunate to have another shot to be doing what I love,” Hurney said. “One thing Joe Gibbs always said was, ‘Don’t worry about the things you can’t control.’ I controlled what I could, and things worked out.”
We are in a time of anger, dissent and division in this country. Despite making one-eighth of my column Monday on the school shooting in Florida and the aftermath of issues like arming teachers and the National Rifle Association’s insistence that no significant laws be changed that would limit gun use in this country, two-thirds of the mail to my column early this week concerned the issues of gun violence, arming teachers, and views of the NRA.
So I am not going to fight it. I am going to use two-thirds of my mailbag today on your thoughts, sermons and responses to the issues that is roiling our country today.
I realize, as many of you will point out to me on Twitter and in future emails, this is a football site and I should stick to sports. For nearly 29 years at Sports Illustrated and The MMQB, that has been my primary communication with all of you. But there is something about this time in our history. On our site this week, you’ll read approximately 30 stories and columns about the NFL, mostly about the combine and the draft, and some about the trade of Marcus Peters to the Rams and other current-event pieces of news in the NFL. This is the one spot you’ll read about your reaction to Parkland, and my reaction to you.
I do not censor my mail. I never have. If you call me names, with a purpose behind it, I often run the mail. If you praise me, with a purpose behind it, I often run the mail. If you have an intelligent take on the news of the day, I will run your mail. I always tell the keeper of the mail, Kalyn Kahler of The MMQB, to make sure I see the good and the real of what you write to me each week.
So with that in mind, here is a representative sampling the email of the week, as selected by Kahler and answered by me.
YOU WON’T BELIEVE ME, BUT THE ANSWER IS YES
I am curious if your two colleagues that were former educators were proponents of arming teachers, would you have printed their responses?
—Michael G., Medina, Ohio
Yes, I would have. I didn’t ask either Mike Tanier or Michael David Smith their opinion of arming teachers before I asked them to write.
ON ARMING TEACHERS
Thank you for including the comments about arming teachers by members of your crew who used to be in the profession. As a teacher just retired from 32 years' service, I was gratified to see a more human and more realistic face on the issue. Many of those in favor of arming teachers are framing their beliefs on two assumptions that have no basis in reality. The first is the idea the idea that school shooters are cowards who would melt away in the presence of an armed teacher. They are anything but. They have a mission, they have a plan, they are driven by their anger and hatred, and they are emboldened by the weapons they carry. Secondly, you can't just identify two or three "capable people," train them, and expect them to succeed in the mayhem of an attack on a school. To have any chance of success, they would need military-style training, constant practice on a firing range, and continuous coordination with local police on updating tactics, standards, and practices. They would have to become both teacher and police officer. I have no idea where the solution is in all this. In a world of people who do not like to listen to each other, too many are turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the world around them. Maybe if we all start by seeing and listening, we'd take the first step towards solving the problem.
—Donald F., Chatham, Mass.
Thanks a lot, Donald. What is madness, I believe, is that the first reaction of many of our elected officials, and certainly of the NRA, was to arm teachers in schools across the country. I don’t even know that it is an idea without merit—I do know that to not even consider banning killing machines like the AR-15 tells me that our president, our elected officials, and the almighty NRA do not want to consider all modes of solution for the murdering of innocent schoolchildren. The outrage of that, simply, is why I am doing this column this way today. I want to pull my hair out at those unwilling to consider all options—and not just the options that fit what is best for gun sales in this country.
YOUR COMMENTS WERE STRICTLY POLITICALLY MOTIVATED
We get it, you don't like Donald Trump. Another week, another column, another swipe, direct or indirect, at the President or his Party. To be honest, it does not really bother me because if you switch his name to President Obama, Harry Reid, Pelosi, or fifty other liberals, you would hear me speaking. Question: What would you, as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, give up in exchange for very strict guns laws? Would you give up the liberal pipe dream of medicare for all? Have term limits? End funding for Planned Parenthood? What would you be willing to give up since you are asking all Americans to give up a right that was codified well over 200 years ago? Just curious.
Why do we have to give up any of those things, Anonymous? And do you believe that our founding fathers would have wanted to give 19-year-olds (or, in fact, any human being not in the military) the right to purchase a killing machine that would do the kind of damage that Florida radiologist Heather Sher described in The Atlantic last week in such vivid detail? Is that the kind of self-defense mechanism our forefathers had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment?
BROOKLYN CHECKS IN
Thanks for your provocative column. Excellent move getting input from former teachers. My wife is a teacher of almost 30 years and I read to her both comments. She backed both 100 percent. I write military history and just from my experience of recounting in my articles and books combat accounts, I add my agreement that the last thing we need is armed teachers. Stick with your convictions, Mr. King. If nothing else, you will be able to sleep well and in the morning stare at your reflection in the mirror without blinking.
—Dwight Z., Brooklyn
Thanks, Dwight. Please tell your wife thanks for her work on the front lines of a job that I so, so, so appreciate.
A REASONABLE TEXAN IS HEARD FROM
I'm a hunter and gun owner. I believe in the second amendment and I also believe in gun control. Why can't my voice be heard over the braying from both parties? You can't repeal all guns; it simply won't happen. You do not need an AR-15 for anything other than fun and hog hunting.
“I believe in the second amendment and I also believe in gun control.” Allen, that is a beautiful statement. I believe in exactly the same thing.
THE PARENT OF A TEACHER CHECKS IN
I know that a lot of readers get upset with you because you mention political issues in your column, and I can attest to some frustration with you because you can be maddeningly naïve at times. I cannot, however, find any issue with keeping the tragedy of the Stoneman Douglas High School murders, the repeated murder of children in our schools, in the public’s eye. I have a personal interest in eliminating this violence. My son, who is currently in the Air Force, was present 10 years ago when a number of his classmates were shot at Northern Illinois University, and one of my daughters is now an elementary school teacher … Arming teachers is ludicrous. The only practical means to reduce the carnage in our schools and elsewhere for that matter is to limit the types of weapons available to those who murder our children ... No one should lose a child to a murderer, and facilitating mass murder through a failure to restrict the sale of automatic weapons is the height of idiocy. This is not an issue of parties, but of people and the people of our country deserve better from our politicians. Our children most of all deserve better.
Thanks for your common-sense thoughts.
THE INFLUENCE OF ANTHEM PROTESTS ON MARCUS PETERS TRADE
I was struck by your comment in the latest MMQB that the “arch-conservative” Midwest could no longer abide Marcus Peters and his anthem protests. Do you have any inside information that the Peters trade was related to his protests? Terez Paylor, the local Chiefs beat reporter, relayed that the Chiefs didn’t want to pay for an undisciplined player like Peters (who was going to hold out for a big contract) and decided to trade him when his value was highest. If you don’t have any inside info that the anthem protests played a part, then why make it central to the story? It made me recall your comment from a few years ago that the Midwest is "fly-over country”, an insult midwesterners have been sensitive to from coastal types for years. I wasn’t offended, since your comments then weren't football-related. But in the Peters story I’m genuinely wondering if your views of the Midwest have inserted themselves into the Peters story.
I was struck during the research for what I wrote to see so many references to Chiefs owner Clark Hunt being unhappy with anthem protests. Hunt is one of the most even-handed, unemotional owners in sports. Do I think it was a factor in the trade? Yes. Do I think it was more of a factor than Peters’ sometimes disruptive ways? No.
THE DISCIPLINE BY ROGER GOODELL FOR JERRY
This can’t be true right? Is Goodell so tone deaf that he thinks he can retroactively fine an owner for complaining about giving him a new contract? Goodell can’t have so much support among owners that he would get away with fining owners (his bosses) who question him publicly. This feels like Goodell is power-mad and overcome with bloodlust.
As it turns out, two things have surfaced here as truths: This is more a case of the NFL going after the legal fees from Jones for his fights against the league on the Goodell contract and on the Ezekiel Elliott suspension. And the owners in the league—who, essentially, would have to pay those legal fees, one-32nd per owner—told Goodell from what I heard that they had no intention of paying
Great read this week, without any glitches or multiple reloads. High fives for the techies!
I owe a debt of thanks to those who led the charge in making my column readable. Ben Eagle, Ryan Hunt, Chris McClusky, Mark Mravic and the boss, Chris Stone, took this matter seriously and, led by Eagle, made sure they didn’t stop till it got fixed. I truly appreciate their professionalism and refusal to give up when they saw something wrong.
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