It would also mark a reunion and homecoming of sorts for Hurney, who would join Rivera for a third time as GM (after two separate stints in Carolina) and return to the city that gave him his NFL start — as a sportswriter covering Washington’s NFL team.
But the third go-round for Hurney and Rivera could look a bit different from the past two.
When Rivera was hired last January, Washington shifted to a coach-centric front-office structure that gave him final say over personnel decisions. He said at the time he planned to “work hand-in-hand with the head of player personnel” because the front office, as he envisioned it, “has to be a collaboration.”
Similar models can be found in Seattle, where Pete Carroll doubles as coach and executive VP of football operations and has final say over the Seahawks’ roster but works in lockstep with GM John Schneider; in Kansas City, where Chiefs Coach Andy Reid and GM Brett Veach collaborate; and in New England, where Bill Belichick, despite being coach and de facto GM of the Patriots, has worked closely with his top personnel executives over the years.
Rivera, who led the GM search, has offered few details on the actual role within Washington’s front office. But it’s plausible that he and Hurney would share the typical duties and collaborate on major decisions, especially as Rivera focuses primarily on coaching during the season. Washington’s senior vice president of football administration, Rob Rogers, who also worked with the two with Carolina, will continue to manage the team’s salary cap and lead contract negotiations.
“There’s more to this position than meets the eye,” Rivera said in a radio interview last week. “There’s a lot that’s encompassing. When I reflect on what I went through in terms of that part of it, I had a lot of good people working it. And that’s the plus, because there’s so much operational stuff that’s involved as well. There’s a lot to it. This is not just picking players and making decisions on contracts or hiring coaches or what have you. It is a big task.”
Among Hurney’s biggest tasks would be helping Washington decide its future at quarterback, a position that featured four different starters this past season and has no obvious candidate as the long-term answer; only Alex Smith is under contract for 2021, but his return isn’t guaranteed after his season was cut short by injury and he nears 37.
Hurney also would face the challenge of continuing a rebuild that started last season with the NFC East title at 7-9. Washington’s young roster has some budding stars and a defense that ranked in the top 10 in most major categories, but it also has glaring holes at key positions.
Hurney was twice the GM with Carolina, first from 2002 to 2012 and then again from 2017 until December. A former sportswriter who covered the Washington NFL team for the now-defunct Washington Star and the Washington Times, Hurney spent a year in the team’s public relations department before following general manager Bobby Beathard to San Diego.
After seven years as the Chargers’ assistant GM, Hurney was hired by the Panthers to be their director of football administration in 1998, then elevated to GM in 2002. Although Hurney was key to hiring Rivera in 2011 and helped form Carolina’s Super Bowl-bound teams in 2003 and 2015, he was fired in 2012, following three playoff-less seasons, only to return five years later on an interim basis. Hurney reclaimed the role full-time for three seasons before owner David Tepper fired him Dec. 21.
“Basically, with discussions, it seemed like Marty and I had a little bit of difference in philosophy,” Tepper told reporters. “He leaned toward more traditional techniques versus a more data-driven, analytical process, but I think some marrying of that would be more in line.”
During Hurney’s tenure as GM, the Panthers went 107-121 (including 16-30 in his final three seasons) and finished above .500 only four times in 15 seasons. His departure was immediately met with speculation that he could come to Washington because of his close ties to Rivera. Close to two dozen Carolina assistant coaches, scouts and staff members have followed Rivera to Washington.
“I really appreciated working with him,” Rivera said of Hurney in December. “He’s a very hard worker and a very bright man. He knows the game. If you look at what he helped us build in Carolina when he helped us build our run, it’s pretty impressive. He pretty much put a lot of pieces into place.”
Hurney was one of six known candidates to interview for Washington’s GM job over the past week, along with San Francisco 49ers vice president of player personnel Martin Mayhew, Tennessee Titans vice president of player personnel Ryan Cowden, Los Angeles Chargers director of pro personnel JoJo Wooden, Atlanta Falcons director of football operations Nick Polk and Washington director of pro personnel Eric Stokes.
Notably not included among the candidates was Kyle Smith, Washington’s VP of player personnel, who many believed was on a track to become the GM. Smith, the son of former NFL executive A.J. Smith, has been in Washington’s personnel department for 11 seasons, rising from intern (2010) to top personnel executive (2020).
Shortly after Rivera was hired a year ago, he promoted Smith from director of college personnel to VP of player personnel to oversee both the pro and college scouting efforts. The team had what was widely considered a successful draft, landing potential stars in defensive end Chase Young and running back Antonio Gibson with its first two picks and rounding out the class with late-round contributors in safety Kam Curl and linebacker Khaleke Hudson. Washington also acquired a few unheralded free agents, such as tight end Logan Thomas and running back J.D. McKissic, who had productive seasons in their first year with the team.
Smith is still under contract with the team, but as Washington’s front office changes, his future has become unclear.
“I think he’s done a nice job for us,” Rivera said of Smith in early December. “Again, as we continue to go forward, I think the big thing more so than anything else is we’ve got to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
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