Marty Hurney, the Carolina Panthers general manager, says hell talk. He doesnt 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 youre 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 foods not good and you go through the drive-thru more than you ever do.
You dont avoid going in public because youre afraid of what people are going to say because most people are very nice. But you feel like youve 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 Carolinas general manager since 2002. He knows what a losing team will do to a region.
Im the one thats responsible for the product on the field, he says. When your record is 1-4, and you havent won since 2008, it grates at you every day.
Drive-thru lines wont save the season. What will?
When somebody takes a punch at you your first instinct is normally to punch back, says Hurney, 56. When youre 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 dont get much more adversity than were in right now.
Adversity should make you stronger, it should make you tougher. And thats 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 youve had three winning seasons since 2002 (11-5 in 2003 and 05 and 12-4 in 08).
Do you question that philosophy?
I think its a proven formula, says Hurney. You can be coronated in March for going out and giving big money to free agents and thats great. But I dont think it works in your locker room. I dont think its a solid plan.
You extended the contracts of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Youre 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 thats 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 dont think you can let them go.
But Williams and Stewart arent setting the tone.
Again I think its hard when everything isnt coming together, when youre behind more youre not running the ball as much, says Hurney. Maybe we have to look at things and do some things different. You say we arent 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 youre winning or losing.
Carolinas 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. Its human nature, just like the questions youre asking, to want faces to point to and say, theyre the reason. And its not individual faces in this business because its 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?
Im 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, its unacceptable.
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson likes and respects you. Its 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. Ive 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. Thats what this game is about, overcoming adversity. If youre going to quit you should just walk out and get another job.
But is winning this season realistic?
Its 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.
Weve made it a lot harder. But its not an impossible task.