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It's uncharacteristic to hear from the Panthers' GM mid-season, but in a year where expectations were high, and the product is under-performing he's now speaking to fans.
Marty Hurney is a lot of things, but of all the charges leveled against him, warranted and unwarranted, you can't say that he doesn't care. In fact, his main failing as an executive may be caring too much, about his players, about his selections, and about retaining a copacetic locker room. Fans are fed up, that's the only way to put it. Hanging on too long to the past all too easily transitioned into a rebuilding process that is only in its second year, but feels like has been going on for five seasons. Now Hurney is stepping forward to talk more, and explain what is happening inside the organization.
Last week he went on WFNZ speaking candidly about his position inside the organization, and his lack of contract-- ostensibly telling the football world he could be fired at any time, without any financial repercussions. Now, Marty Hurney sat down with the Charlotte Observers' Tom Sorensen to elucidate his feelings, and what the team needs to do moving forward.
"When somebody takes a punch at you your first instinct is normally to punch back," says Hurney, 56. "When you're 1-4 you can start questioning yourself and think whether you should fight back or not. But this league is all about handling adversity and you don't get much more adversity than we're in right now."
It's hard not to feel slightly sorry for Hurney in this situation. As general manager it's his job to shape the organization, and look at the team in terms of a two, five, and ten year plan-- then Ryan Kalil tells everyone they're going to win the Superbowl immediately. This is tantamount to planning to run a marathon, only to have a friend call a press conference to tell everyone that you're going to break a world record. Outside of the Carolinas the advertisement embodied hilarity, much like Rex Grossman telling reporters the Washington Redskins would win the NFC East in 2011, but for fans in the region it inflated expectations far beyond the tolerances for a team in the middle of rebuilding, just one season removed from a 2-14 year.
One of the most questionable decisions in recent years by Hurney was that to retain both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, two premier backs, but in a modern NFL where the run is becoming more and more de-emphasized. Despite the criticism of the move, he's still convinced it was the right one.
"I think you keep your good players [...] I know that's one of the biggest criticisms (re-signing both backs). But I think running backs set the tone for games. And when you have excellent players, players ... at the top of their positions, I don't think you can let them go."
Marty Hurney is absolutely, unequivocally, 100% correct. Running backs do set the tone, and oftentimes you'll find that even in the most staunch pass-heavy teams that it's the running game that puts a good team over the top. However, right now there is a disconnect between Hurney's reasonable, salient commentary on the RB position, and how they're being misused by the coaching staff on Sunday. As the head coach it's Ron Rivera's job to change that, and get Chud back in line with what needs to happen with the offensive personnel, rather than what's currently happening, and as head of football operations it's Hurney's job to ensure Rivera makes that adjustment, and if that's not happening then changes need to be made.
A bye week is a rare oasis. It's the singular time in an NFL season where unprepared teams get to retool and make adjustments. Let's be honest: nobody is going to reinvent the wheel in one week, and there's no way to magically gain veteran depth or upgrade the talent on the roster, however the Panthers can adjust their philosophy to better use the talent they already have.
"It's such a game of confidence and you need something good to happen to trigger that, to ignite it," says Hurney. "To get to that point, our toughness, the character of every person in this building, is being challenged."
If Carolina return against the Dallas Cowboys with the same ineffective offense they displayed against Seattle it will be the antithesis of responding to the 'challenge' Hurney is talking about. What remains to be seen is how he will react if the coaching staff do not respond, and that will be something to watch.