- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Carolina Panthers announced Monday morning that general manager Marty Hurney has been relieved of his duties.
The move came a day after a 19-14 loss to Dallas gave Carolina a 1-5 start despite it having one of the league's higher payrolls. The Panthers' record is the worst in the NFC.
"This was an extremely difficult decision," team owner Jerry Richardson said in a statement released by the team. "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."
When asked Monday afternoon if Richardson gave him a reason for his firing, Hurney said, "It's simple, we're 1-5, and we're 1-3 at home. We laid an egg at home against the Giants on national television. We've come back the last two and lost against teams we felt we should beat. It can't continue to go this way."
He was asked if quarterback Cam Newton is one of the players that needs to step up.
"I think he's certainly capable. This isn't an indictment on any player. I think leadership in the locker room is one of the most underrated things in this league because the talent level is so even."
Hurney joined the team's personnel department in 1998 and was elevated to general manager in 2002.
Hurney also made it clear that he was fired and didn't resign.
"I'm not a quitter. The hardest thing about this is my final record for the season is 1-5. That's a hard one to live with. I haven't lost confidence in my ability."
The Panthers went to the Super Bowl in the 2003 season and the NFC Championship Game in the 2005 season. But Carolina hasn't had a winning season since 2008 and never had back-to-back winning seasons in Hurney's tenure.
"I am very fortunate to have been a part of one of the best organizations in the NFL since 1998," Hurney said earlier Monday, in the statement announcing his firing. "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."
While Hurney said he understood Richardson's decision, one of the team's defensive stars was taken aback by the move. Defensive end Charles Johnson tweeted his objections to Hurney's firing Monday morning.
Johnson, who is tied for the team lead in sacks with 3.5, wrote: "Marty wasn't the reason we are losing! That's bs! Unbelievable! Marty might be the realist GM that I know#InMyMind BS BS BS BS!"
Receiver Steve Smith, who has been with the Panthers since 2001, told the Charlotte Observer that the NFL was a "tough business" when asked about Hurney's firing.
"I always will, I always have respected Marty as a man and also as a GM. He's made some tough decisions," Smith told the newspaper. "Marty and Mr. Richardson, I think neither party thought this day would come in the middle of the season like this."
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 Panthers certainly had many chances to find impact players in the draft during Hurney's tenure. Since 2002, when he took over as general manager, only seven NFL teams have had more draft picks than the Panthers' 91, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
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 Johnson, who has never been to a Pro Bowl, a contract worth $72 million and also handed out a five-year, $43 million contract with $21 million in guaranteed money to running back DeAngelo Williams. Williams hasn't done much since and serves as a part-time player.
This past offseason the Panthers gave fellow running back Jonathan Stewart a deal worth more than $5 million 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.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
4dEric D. Williams
4dMel Kiper Jr.