Marty Hurney. The name conjures images of middling performance and mid-round draft busts for some fans. Carolina's former general manager has become the fall guy for much of what's wrong with the organization, but in looking back at past draft classes his ideology isn't dissimilar from Dave Gettleman, who's put on a pedestal for his "best player available" approach to player selection.
Much of this is bred out of a desire to separate the new guy from his predecessor, over-compensation to believe that his approach will succeed where the past regime failed -- but ultimately the two are closer than most like to admit. A bust doesn't dictate a player was a "reach," just as a need-based pick can bring a franchise player.
Hurney put a lot of faith in his scouting staff to give him the best information, just as most GMs do. The best don't meddle in player scouting, but have an eye for selecting talented evaluators to make informed decisions. To this end Gettleman is rare, a general manager who is actively involved in the talent evaluation process and works directly with scouting, but that doesn't mean his approach is wholly different.
Take into account 2008. Sources familiar with the situation tell Cat Scratch Reader that the Panthers had two players atop their board that year -- quarterback Matt Ryan who the team intended to trade up for before he was selected by Atlanta and offensive tackle Ryan Clady, taken one pick before Carolina's trip to the podium.
It was a disheartening draft for the Panthers, who had plans in place to upgrade the team's offense that fell apart. This is where we see a divergence in Hurney and Gettleman's approach and an area that cost the former GM his job. Gettleman chooses not to mortgage the future to bolster the present, while Hurney tended to believe in his scouts if they believed in a player.
This manifested itself as an ill-advised trade, going best player available at No. 13 and selecting Jonathan Stewart before getting greedy and trading back into the first round to select Jeff Otah. It should be noted that both Stewart and Otah proved to be very good players on the field, but had issues staying on it.
A similar situation arose in 2009. Selecting Everette Brown is largely (and incorrectly) seen as a hurried "need" pick to mitigate the eventual loss of Julius Peppers, but that ignores the fact that Brown received a first round grade from several teams, the Panthers believed he was the second-best pass rusher in the draft, prompting another trade to secure him.
In hindsight these three moves seem foolish, but there was a strong BPA plan behind all of them. The issue was executing those trades, and that falls on Hurney for not seeing the long game. It continued in 2010 with Jimmy Clausen, widely hailed as the best pick of the draft because Carolina took a potential franchise quarterback in the second round. It's become fashionable to say "I never liked the Clausen pick," but scouting believed in him enough that the Panthers explored the possibility of trading up. Ultimately Hurney reneged on the idea following his two prior trades. Clausen landed in Carolina anyway, and there's little doubt he was a BPA pick.
The Panthers' struggles in the draft from 2008-10 weren't a product of making insensible needs-based picks, but rather simply missing several years in a row. This is attributed to Hurney, because he was the figurehead -- however, sometimes players simply don't work out. Ask the 49ers if they got what they planned from A.J. Jenkins, or the Saints and Mark Ingram. Busts happen, it's part of the game.
Where Gettleman benefited in 2013 was the fortuitous collision of need and BPA in the first round. He's lauded for double-dipping at DT (pure need) but if either Star Lotulelei or Kawann Short hadn't panned out the class would look very different. It's unfair to call the situation "luck," it was clearly good scouting and judging from his post-draft presser it was Gettleman who banged the table for Short.
Here's the deal: There hasn't been some monumental shift in ideology that turned failure into success, but rather a case of having another cook in the kitchen, someone who has an eye for talent.
We're loyal creatures in these parts. The phrase "In ___ I trust" is ascribed to every single person in a leadership position at one point in time, the fanbase has proved that to be so. We tend to fall head-over-heels for anyone new, THEN worry about whether they can do the job correctly and with sustainability -- we're easy that way.
Ultimately if you look at Huney's tenure vs. Gettleman's there's only one thing that really stands out: Ill-advised trades. They marred the better part of a decade and don't seem to play a role now, but remember the next time you're cheering for Greg Olsen that he was acquired as part of Hurney's trade-happy days, and likely never would have arrived under Gettleman.
The future is bright, but that doesn't mean we always need to treat the past like garbage.