Sorensen: Panthers GM takes blame but hates losing, too

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comOctober 10, 2012 

Marty Hurney, the Carolina Panthers general manager, says he’ll talk. He doesn’t want to, but he will. We agree to meet Tuesday at noon.

You want to pick a restaurant?

No restaurant. The more the Panthers lose, the less time Hurney spends in public.

“When you’re losing nothing is good,” Hurney says at a round table beneath a flat-screen TV in his office at Bank of America Stadium. “The bye (this Sunday) is not good, going home is not good, the food’s not good and you go through the drive-thru more than you ever do.

“You don’t avoid going in public because you’re afraid of what people are going to say because most people are very nice. But you feel like you’ve disappointed everybody and you are almost afraid to look them in the eye because you know what winning football games and having a winning team does for the whole region.”

Hurney has been Carolina’s general manager since 2002. He knows what a losing team will do to a region.

“I’m the one that’s responsible for the product on the field,” he says. “When your record is 1-4, and you haven’t won since 2008, it grates at you every day.”

Drive-thru lines won’t save the season. What will?

“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.

“Adversity should make you stronger, it should make you tougher. And that’s going to be the key to how we continue the rest of the season.”

Your philosophy is to extend the contracts of draft choices that perform for you and disdain expensive free agents. Yet you’ve had three winning seasons since 2002 (11-5 in 2003 and ’05 and 12-4 in ‘08).

Do you question that philosophy?

“I think it’s a proven formula,” says Hurney. “You can be coronated in March for going out and giving big money to free agents and that’s great. But I don’t think it works in your locker room. I don’t think it’s a solid plan.”

You extended the contracts of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. You’re paying them a total of $79 million, $44 million of it guaranteed.

In retrospect, would you still do that?

“Yes,” says Hurney. “And the reason is this. I think you keep your good players. And in this day and age with all the websites, everybody wants to be a mathematician with the salary cap. Listen. The salary cap is just a system of choices and you have to make difficult choices with your players every year.

“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.”

But Williams and Stewart aren’t setting the tone.

“Again I think its hard when everything isn’t coming together, when you’re behind more you’re not running the ball as much,” says Hurney. “Maybe we have to look at things and do some things different. You say we aren’t running the ball. But we ran for 200 yards against New Orleans and we ran against Atlanta.”

Combined statistics for the Saints and Falcons games: Williams 25 carries, 118 yards; Stewart 21 carries, 91 yards.

Combined statistics in the other three games, all Carolina losses (two of which Stewart missed): Williams 23 carries, 55 yards, Stewart four carries, 16 yards.

“If we were winning (the close games) I think you say the decision works,” says Hurney. “It all comes down to whether you’re winning or losing.”

Carolina’s weakest component has been its secondary. The question feels old now. But are you comfortable starting Haruki Nakamura at safety and rookie Josh Norman at cornerback.

“We have faith in their ability,” says Hurney. “It’s human nature, just like the questions you’re asking, to want faces to point to and say, they’re the reason. And it’s not individual faces in this business because it’s how you come to together as a group, OK? The individual face that should be pointed to belongs to me. “

Do you still believe in your ability?

“I’m a better general manager today than when we went to the Super Bowl or we went to the NFL championship or we went 12-4,” says Hurney. “I know more. But the bottom line is the record is not good enough, it’s unacceptable.”

Panthers owner Jerry Richardson likes and respects you. It’s tough to envision him firing you. Can you see yourself walking away?

“My mom and dad raised me to understand that life is hard and when things get hard you have to get tougher and you have to work harder,” says Hurney.

Hurney is not going to quit.

Should fans quit on this team?

“I was with San Diego in 1992 and we started 0-4 and finished 11-5 and played the (Kansas City) Chiefs in the playoffs,” says Hurney. “We beat them 17-0. I’ve never been as nervous or excited the night before a game as I was the night before Kansas City.

“We fought back from 0-4. That’s what this game is about, overcoming adversity. If you’re going to quit you should just walk out and get another job.”

But is winning this season realistic?

“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.

“We’ve made it a lot harder. But it’s not an impossible task.”

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