Panthers send GM Marty Hurney packing

Marty Hurney was fired Monday as general manager of the Carolina Panthers, who have stumbled to a 1-5 start this season and have failed to make the NFL playoffs since 2008.
Marty Hurney was fired as general manager Monday over Carolina's 1-5 start to the season. (Chuck Burton/Associated Press)

Marty Hurney admits the "losing environment" for the Carolina Panthers must end. He won't be a part of the effort.

Hurney was fired as general manager Monday, one day after star quarterback Cam Newton expressed his frustration with a 1-5 start. The Panthers have the worst record in the NFC in a season that began with big expectations. But a 19-14 loss to Dallas was Carolina's fourth straight defeat.

Hurney, the GM since 2002, took responsibility for the team's failures.

He spoke to owner Jerry Richardson before Sunday's game and had an inkling he might be fired if the Panthers lost to the Cowboys. He met with Richardson again for two hours after the game Sunday night and was told he was fired on Monday.

"It's simple. We're 1-5. We are 1-3 at home," Hurney said. "We laid in egg in front of the Giants on national TV [a 36-7 loss] and came back the last two weeks and lost against teams we felt like we had a good chance to beat. It can't continue to go this way."

Hurney said he fought for his job, but in the end couldn't blame Richardson. Hurney added he thinks the Panthers need more leadership.

"I think we need somebody to step up in the locker room and take hold," Hurney said. "I think there are people capable of that. I think we need some players to step up and say enough is enough."

Newton experienced virtually no losses before becoming a pro, and he was the 2011 offensive rookie of the year. But this season has been a struggle, and he seemed at a loss for solutions Sunday.

"Well everybody's looking at it, it's not just me," he said. "[We] try to find ways to keep games close and whether it's me, I don't know. Whether it's the co-ordinator, I don't know … but we've got to find a way to change that."

The first change came in the front office. Brandon Beane, the team's director of football operations, will handle day-to-day football matters until a new GM is hired. However, coach Ron Rivera said when it comes to personnel decisions he'll have final say in matters for now.

"I am very fortunate to have been a part of one of the best organizations in the NFL since 1998," he said. "As general manager, I will always regret not helping us win the Super Bowl or having back-to-back winning seasons.

"I hope this change starts accomplishing the direction to those goals … I am responsible for everybody in coaching, the players, the scouts and everybody in football operations. After six weeks, we are 1-5 coming off a 6-10 season."

Rivera said at this point no assistant coaches have been fired, but wouldn't rule that out.

"We're all being evaluated," said Rivera, who was hired by Hurney in 2011.

Hurney doesn't expect Richardson to hire a new general manager until after the season. Richardson could bring in an experienced interim personnel man to evaluate the team.

Hurney was GM when the Panthers went to the 2003 Super Bowl and NFC Championship games in the 2003 and 2005 seasons as well as winning the NFC South in 2008.

'Respect, admiration'

"Marty made every effort to bring success to the Panthers and took the team to a Super Bowl and two NFC Championship games," Panthers owner Jerry Richardson said. "Unfortunately, we have not enjoyed the success we hoped for in recent years.

"I have the greatest respect and admiration for Marty and will always appreciate the way he tirelessly served the organization."

He was well liked and respected within the organization, but his personnel decisions in the draft and in free agency were routinely criticized by fans tired of the Panthers losing ways.

Defensive end Charles Johnson, the team's highest-paid player, said on Twitter: "Marty wasn't the reason we are losing! … Unbelievable!"

Carolina's last playoff victory came in 2005 when it reached the NFC Championship game before losing to the Seattle Seahawks. The Panthers appeared to turn things around in 2008 when they won the NFC South and earned a first-round bye before getting upset 33-13 at home by the Arizona Cardinals. They haven't been back to the playoffs since.

Hurney's philosophy has been to build through the draft and re-sign proven players rather than going after high-priced free agents. But the team wasted a number of high draft picks through the years on players who became busts.

The personnel blunder fans that angered fans most was when Hurney gave 34-year-old quarterback Jake Delhomme a five-year, $42.5-million US contract months after he turned the ball over six times in the playoff loss to Arizona.

Expensive investment

Delhomme started 2009 with a five-turnover game against Philadelphia and was cut after the season. Delhomme cost the Panthers $12 million US under the salary cap in 2009, even though he was no longer on the roster because the team had to absorb the remainder of his signing bonus.

Eric Shelton, Dwayne Jarrett, Jimmy Clausen and Everette Brown were all players who were drafted in the second round, but failed to meet expectations. Brown, in particular, was a costly choice in 2009 because the Panthers gave up their first-round draft pick the following year to the San Francisco 49ers to get him. Brown lasted only two seasons in Carolina and is now out of the league.

There were other poor decisions, including giving up a second-round pick in 2011 to the New England Patriots for the rights to draft Armanti Edwards in the third round in 2010. Edwards has not been a factor after trying to make the transition from college quarterback at Appalachian State to receiver/returner in the NFL.

Hurney also was criticized for giving big free-agent contracts to keep the team's core intact following a 2-14 season in 2010. He gave defensive end Charles Johnson, who has never been to a Pro Bowl, a contract worth $72 million US and also handed out a five-year, $43-million US contract with $21 million US in guaranteed money to running back DeAngelo Williams. Williams hasn't done much since and serves as a part-time player.

This past off-season the Panthers gave fellow running back Jonathan Stewart a deal worth more than $5 million US per year. That left the team with two high-priced running backs at a time when the NFL has moved toward becoming a passing league.

Hurney also cut kicker John Kasay and handed Olindo Mare a four-year, $12-million US deal that included a $4-million US signing bonus. Mare lasted one season.

He did well with many of his first-round draft picks over the years, landing players like Jordan Gross, Jon Beason, Jonathan Stewart, Chris Gamble and Cam Newton, last year's No. 1 overall pick.