The Panthers unleashed a blockbuster on Monday morning, as team owner Jerry Richardson announced that general manager Marty Hurney "has been relieved of his duties." Hurney had been general manager of the Panthers since 2002 and with the organization since 1998.
Was it time? Yes. Probably past time, in fact. Hurney has shepherded a team that has gone 9-29 since the start of the 2010 season -- an NFL-worst record during that period. Richardson's stated goal has long been for the Panthers to post back-to-back winning seasons. They have never done that and have started this season 1-5. Hurney had publicly taken the blame for that start.
The end of Hurney's tenure likely came about because of a characteristic most would think of as a positive -- unquestioned loyalty. Over and over, Hurney signed players to enormous contracts that he had drafted and/or acquired and who had been part of occasionally decent but often bad Panther teams.
He and Richardson spent huge sums of money to retain players like DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Charles Johnson, Ryan Kalil and Jon Beason -- all of whom were part of the 12-4 team of 2008, yes, but more recently were part of the 2-14 team of 2010. Before that came a huge contract extension given to quarterback Jake Delhomme coming off his nightmarish playoff game against Arizona following the 2008 season.
“This was an extremely difficult decision,” said Richardson. “Marty made every effort to bring success to the Panthers and took the team to a Super Bowl and two NFC championship games. 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.”
Hurney, who was GM when the Panthers went to the Super Bowl in 2003 and to the playoffs in 2005 and 2008, issued a classy statement on the way out the door through the Panthers.
“I am very fortunate to have been a part of one of the best organizations in the NFL since 1998,” says Hurney. “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 understand this decision by Mr. Richardson and will always have an extremely close relationship with him. I consider him the best owner in the NFL. 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.”
So now what? If I were Ron Rivera, I wouldn't be resting very easy right now. ((And he isn't -- in his news conference Monday afternoon, he made that clear). Richardson has never pulled the plug on a head coach after only two seasons, but George Seifert lasted only three and Dom Capers only four. Richardson is 76 years old, and he wants to see the Panthers win a Super Bowl while he is still in good health. It sounds like his patience is finally running out -- as it has before with his two sons, Mark and Jon, and with three other head coaches before Rivera.
So watch out, everyone at Bank of America Stadium -- the Big Cat is fully engaged. And his claws are out.