(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Marty Hurney interview, log on to the following audio: Ep 28: A Conversation With Marty Hurney | The Eye Test for Two | Spreaker)
You can’t go home again, Thomas Wolfe once told us. Apparently, Marty Hurney wasn’t listening.
The former Carolina GM is one of Washington’s newest hires, joining the Football Team as its vice president of football operations … and, OK, nothing extraordinary about that. Front-office executives switch jobs all the time. Except that Washington is where Hurney grew up, attended college (Catholic University) and started a career in pro football.
Covering the team that now employs him.
As a sportswriter for the Washington Times, he followed the club in the 1980s until he was hired as its public-relations director. After two years at that job, he left with former GM Bobby Beathard for San Diego, spent eight years there and eventually wound up in Carolina.
But now, after 30 years, he’s back. And he’s back not only in the metropolitan area where he grew up and with the football team he cheered as a young man, then followed as a reporter, but he’s reunited with the head coach he hired at Carolina in 2011, Ron Rivera.
Apparently, you can go home again.
“I haven’t really been able to put my arms around it,” he said on the latest “Eye Test for Two Podcast.” “I’m really excited about it.”
He should be. Washington is coming off a season where it won the NFC East for the second time in the past eight years and, with a third-string quarterback, pushed Tampa Bay in the playoffs. It has a raft of young talent, including Defensive Rookie-of-the-Year Chase Young, and one of the game’s outstanding coaches in Rivera, who took Carolina to Super Bowl 50.
That was his first stop as a head coach, and it was Hurney who hired him – one of many decisions that went right during his tenure there.
“When we met with him for the interview — (then-Carolina president) Danny Morrison and myself – it was as impressive as I expected it to be,” Hurney said. “He was very organized and detailed. And he just has a great way of relating to players. He played the game himself for a long time (with Chicago), and he just gets it. He had that ‘It Factor.’ So it really wasn’t a hard decision.”
Maybe. But Rivera hadn’t been a head coach before. Yes, he was on short lists of teams other than Carolina, but until the Panthers hired him he was one of many offseason interviews waiting on head-coaching jobs.
So what convinced Hurney to take the leap?
“When you look for head coaches,” he said, “I have a saying: Follow the players. If you do enough research and look at the comments that players make who have played for him – in Ron’s case, it was in Chicago and in San Diego (where he was a defensive coordinator at both places) – if you look what they say about them, the players will tell you who the good coaches are. I can’t remember one negative comment about Ron when we were doing research on him, as far as the players that he coached.
“The other thing that really impressed me was that he was at Chicago, and they were running a 4-3 at the time. He goes to San Diego and they’re running the 3-4. And instead of changing what they do, he adapted to what they did. And I think that’s a critical personality trait you’re looking for in a head coach. It’s his ability to be flexible to use the talents of his players that he had. And Ron had that.”
Rivera, who is 83-72-1 with four division championships and two NFL Coach-of-the-Year awards, last season in Washington hired several assistants who worked with him in Carolina, including offensive coordinator Scott Turner and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Now he’s joined by the former GM who gave him his start.
“I’m naturally a behind-the-scenes guy,” Hurney said. “I have learned this as I have been in this longer and longer: I think the football side has to have one voice … really for the players more than the public. When something is said it’s heard by that locker room first. At least, that’s what I care about. And I think that most of the time the head coach should be that one voice. Here, Ron Rivera should be that one voice.”