CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was inevitable that Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper would move on from general manager Marty Hurney. It was just a question of when.
Tepper kept Hurney for almost a year after firing coach Ron Rivera, even as he cleaned house to hire Baylor coach Matt Rhule, which was maybe the biggest surprise.
Hurney is "old school," a term that Tepper said on a Zoom call he doesn't like using. As effective as Hurney is as a talent evaluator and as easy to get along with as he was for Rhule and Tepper, Hurney wasn't the analytical and data-driven person they wanted in the role.
As Tepper noted hours after firing Hurney -- which happened the day after his now former general manager turned 65 and six months before his contract expired -- Hurney was a good teacher for him as a new owner and for Rhule as a first-time NFL head coach.
"Sometime the students have to graduate,'' Tepper said.
So the Panthers graduated to a GM search that Jacksonville, Houston, Atlanta and Detroit already have begun. They are looking for somebody who can collaborate and align with the process-driven owner and coach.
Here's a closer look at questions Monday's firing raises:
Was there a power struggle with Matt Rhule?
It was not so much a power struggle as philosophical differences. Rhule is very process-driven. While he liked Hurney on a personal level and vice versa, they weren't on the same page in terms of analytics and innovation. So that naturally would lead to disagreements on the type of player it takes to build a team that can compete consistently for Super Bowls, as Tepper wants.
Tepper said repeatedly he wanted a GM who would align and collaborate with Rhule, which is a nice way of saying Rhule and Hurney simply weren't a good match.
Will Rhule end up being his own GM?
Rhule is a disciple of Tom Coughlin, who was in charge of all coaching and personnel decisions during his first stint at Jacksonville and to a degree with the New York Giants. But the answer is no, this won't be a situation similar to Bill O'Brien, who was fired from both roles earlier this season in Houston.
"Matt has control of what he does on a daily basis,'' Tepper said. In other words, Rhule has enough on his plate coaching and has a general belief that it's tough to keep good relationships with players if you're also determining their financial future.
The new GM will be part of a layer of management Tepper wants to build. He wants to keep player personnel director Pat Stewart "in some capacity,'' not ruling out him as a potential candidate to replace Hurney. Salary-cap manager Samir Suleiman, who was with the Steelers when Tepper was a minority owner in his hometown, also will remain a part of the new chain of command. This will be all about a collaborative effort in which Rhule will have a big voice, but won't be in charge. Coughlin is available, by the way.
Are there any other front-office moves coming?
There are no major moves coming outside the GM currently, but that could change once the new GM gets in place and begins putting together his staff. As mentioned repeatedly above, this person has to be analytical and data-driven. When asked to expand on that, Tepper used as an example looking at player deals based on performance at different times in a game. "How they perform in the fourth quarter -- make sure you have those data points,'' he said. Tepper mentioned how the NFL is different than college in that respect. Since most of Rhule's expertise has come on the college level, that could play a role in the hire.
Should the Panthers make drafting a first-round QB a top priority?
Absolutely. Teddy Bridgewater has been a good quarterback to bridge the gap from Cam Newton, but he's 3-9 as the starter and is 0-for-8 when the Panthers have had the ball and a chance to win or tie on their last possession. Quarterback was the second position Tepper mentioned after the secondary, which was piecemealed together, when talking about moving forward. At 4-10 and with a top-five draft pick almost certain, Carolina could have several good quarterback options.
"Unless you have that guy who gets you to playoffs or Super Bowls, you have to keep re-evaluating that,'' Tepper said of the quarterback position. "Because the only thing that matters is Super Bowls.''
Do they regret giving Christian McCaffrey the huge deal?
One of the biggest issues with Hurney during the first of his two tenures at Carolina was he gave big contracts to big-name players, particularly running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. But McCaffrey was a little different. McCaffrey's four-year, $64 million extension made him the highest-paid running back in the NFL, but it was more about locking down a player Rhule wanted to build around.
Tepper noted nobody could have known McCaffrey would miss 11 games with injuries this season -- he hadn't missed a game in his first three years -- and how that would have an impact on the team's record. However, he added this to throw a little mystery into his answer: "I don't think specifically you want to point to one thing or another. It's just a general process, how a process is done or not done.''