When Panthers fans gather around their televisions this afternoon to watch their 10-0 team, there are many people for whom they should be thankful.
But one of the unheralded architects of their current success is a guy they fired over three years ago.
Fourteen of the 53 players on the Panthers roster were acquired by former General Manager Marty Hurney, before he was fired on Oct. 22, 2012. And while that’s just over a quarter of the team, he’s responsible for most of their biggest stars.
Their offense has been built from the inside out with his draft picks, with quarterback Cam Newton, center Ryan Kalil and running back Jonathan Stewart. Throw in trade acquisition Greg Olsen and free agent fullback Mike Tolbert, and the guts of their offense have been in place for years.
On the other side of the ball, former defensive player of the year Luke Kuechly, linebacker Thomas Davis, defensive end Charles Johnson and breakout cornerback Josh Norman were all drafted by Hurney.
The rest of his guys on the roster include backup quarterback Derek Anderson, punter Brad Nortman, safety Colin Jones, long snapper J.J. Jansen and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards. Three other players he acquired (Amini Silatolu, Nate Chandler and Frank Alexander) are on injured reserve.
That’s not to say current G.M. Dave Gettleman hasn’t done a good job building a championship-level roster, he has with good drafting and strategic forays into free agency. Gettleman’s also had to do it while digging out from salary cap problems, and those get pinned on the guy he replaced. But with time to look back on the glut of deals Hurney signed in 2011, it’s worth wondering how much of that cap consequence might have been avoided if owner Jerry Richardson would have let him extend some of those players before the lockout. Instead, Richardson effectively handcuffed his own roster to prove a larger labor point, at a time he was helping Roger Goodell negotiate a new CBA.
But Hurney’s best move might have been hiring first-time head coach Ron Rivera, and allowing him to develop. Rivera looked like a guy in over his head at the time Hurney was fired (he was 7-15 at that point), but has grown into a legitimate coach of the year candidate, having won 14 straight regular season games with a style built on being steady.
The greater point might be that the Panthers have allowed such a strong core of players and coaches to grow together, and the three years of stability have as much to do with their success as the individual identities of the players or coaches.
But the guy who put them there deserves at least a little credit too.