10/16/09 — Opinion -- Panthers must make better decisions

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Opinion -- Panthers must make better decisions

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on October 16, 2009 1:46 PM

Championships aren't won in the offseason, but they can certainly be lost months before the season begins.

Just ask the Carolina Panthers.

When Carolina entered the NFL in 1995, owner Jerry Richardson and general manager Bill Polian quickly built the Panthers into a winner.

After a 7-9 inaugural season in 1996, the front office went to work. Second-year quarterback Kerry Collins developed into the leader Polian envisioned him being after drafting Collins out of Penn State.

Polian also added free-agent tight end Wesley Walls, along with linebacker Kevin Greene and corner Eric Davis. Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad was drafted out of Michigan State to give Collins another threat on the outside.

The results were a NFC West divisional title, a win over Dallas in the playoffs and a trip to Green Bay for the NFC Championship game.

Although Carolina came up short against the Packers, the organization at least appeared to be headed in the right direction.

Before arriving in Charlotte, Polian served as general manager in Buffalo from 1986 to 1993. He lured quarterback Jim Kelly to the Bills from the USFL and quickly watched Buffalo reach four straight Super Bowls.

Polian left Carolina after the 1996 season, and has been team president in Indianapolis since December of 1997. Under Polian, the Colts have reached the playoffs an NFL-best seven consecutive seasons, and nine of the last 10.

After several disappointing seasons including a 1-15 campaign in 2001, the Panthers replaced head coach George Seifert with John Fox. Carolina's director of operations Marty Hurney, a former sports writer, was promoted to general manager.

Since taking over as Carolina's GM, Hurney has witnessed four losing seasons along with an 8-8 campaign. Plus, the Panthers have failed to produce consecutive playoff appearances. Carolina is also just nine games over .500 at 64-55 during that time.

The Panthers' inability to string together consecutive successful seasons is directly tied to Hurney's critical mistakes in personnel management. The decision to let Muhammad leave for Chicago, only to later realize the wide receiver's importance and bring him back to Charlotte in 2008, just scratches the surface of Hurney's troubles.

There were also the moves to let Keyshawn Johnson go a year too early and the head scratching signing of David Carr.

During this past offseason Hurney rewarded diminishing quarterback Jake Delhomme with a five-year extension worth $42.5 million. He also slapped the franchise tag on disgruntled defensive end Julius Peppers.

Hurney has also furthered his legacy with a litany of draft busts. The names Drew Carter, Keary Colbert, Dwayne Jarrett, Sean Tufts, Michael Gaines and a CFL roster full of draft disappointments have never produced in Charlotte.

Marty Hurney has never played a down in a Panthers uniform and a large amount of the responsibility for Carolina's shortcomings falls on its players and coaching staff.

The futures of Delhomme, Peppers and head coach John Fox will give owner Jerry Richardson plenty of decisions to make once the season is complete. Freeing the organization of Marty Hurney and a managerial nightmare should be a no-brainer.