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Ed Hardin: Distance learning is over for Panthers GM Hurney

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Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera (left), with general manager Marty Hurney. Hurney is back in the GM’s chair after five years away from the team. Hurney admits he missed being in the war room on draft day the last few years. “This is the fun part of the job,” he said.

Chuck Burton/The Associated Press

CHARLOTTE – Marty Hurney said he didn’t watch the last few NFL drafts in a bar, but he didn’t sound very convincing.

“I watched from home,” the Panthers’ general manager said, barely cracking a smile as Coach Ron Rivera sat beside him, shaking his head.

Hurney made it clear that he missed it, though. Sitting at home, or wherever he was, wasn’t the same as being in the war room on draft day.

“This is the fun part of the job,” he said.

Hurney is back in the general manager’s chair after five years away from the team. He left midway through the 2012 season after running the Panthers’ contract and personnel decisions from 2002 to 2012, drafting some of the most important players in the history of the franchise.

He brought in Julius Peppers and Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly.

But there’s another side to Hurney’s draft history with the Panthers, and it’s likely he learned as much from his mistakes as his successes in those five years watching from home.

“I can tell you right now I don’t think we’ll be trading next year’s first,” he said.

Hurney famously gave away first-round picks in 2008 and 2009 and got only tackle Jeff Otah and the forgettable Everette Brown in return. They’re considered to be the biggest draft busts in Panthers history, though you could argue that Hurney trading a second-round pick for Appalachian State’s Armanti Edwards was an equally bad reach.

Away from the draft for all those years, Hurney watched and reminisced.

“You want to let the draft come to you,” he said today. “Patience is the most important thing.”

He said he learned that by watching. Draft lessons are apparently easier observed from a distance.

Hurney never left town after he was blamed for Carolina’s 1-5 start in 2012. He owns the local ESPN radio affiliate in Charlotte and wasn’t afraid to judge the Panthers drafts he was left out of. On the air.

It led to some interesting exchanges with Rivera, which was probably what Rivera was giving him a hard time about when Hurney insisted he watched the previous five drafts from home. Hurney admitted that he sometimes listened on the radio when he had to go “out.”

Bottom line was, he missed the action. And he loves being back in the game.

“Doing what we do, this is the most exciting time,” he said.

Rivera said he and Hurney see eye-to-eye on most things, though they often change their minds. The scouts and the Panthers football staff don’t do mock drafts. They mostly bring up scenarios and try to anticipate how the draft will fall to them at No. 24 in the first round.

Hurney said they won’t pay much attention to the early picks and will start to assess their board only when they’re five or six picks away from No. 24. And once there, they anticipate coming to a quick decision.

He suggested they have eight players they’re looking at right now.

“So what do we do if all eight are gone?” Hurney surmised.

Trade is a likely scenario.

This is a deep draft, and while most analysts are calling this a defensive draft, Hurney isn’t so sure. He also thinks Carolina has enough players and depth that it can win no matter who they bring in this week. Rivera said Carolina only has one real concern.

“Left guard,” he said.

The first round Thursday night will be Hurney’s chance to put his stamp on the franchise once again, and a left guard won’t do it. But he wouldn’t let on to which positions he was focused on.

This is an odd time for the Panthers with lame-duck owner Jerry Richardson being investigated for sexual harassment and a new ownership group potentially weeks away from being named. In years past, Richardson was always in the planning room during the draft. Neither Hurney nor Rivera know where he’ll be this year. With former cheerleader Tina Becker running the day-to-day operations, Hurney and Rivera will have no outside opinions to deal with.

Hurney knows where he’ll be Thursday, and it won’t be in a bar and it won’t be at home.

He’s back in the game.

He has the 24th pick in the NFL Draft. And he’s not giving it away.


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