Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson fired a warning shot across the bow of his highly-paid coaches and players when he announced general manager Marty Hurney was fired Monday.
The dismissal came a day after quarterback Cam Newton expressed his frustration with the team's offense after the Panthers' 19-14 home loss to the Dallas Cowboys. It was Carolina's fourth consecutive loss and fourth this season by six points or less.
Newton went on a postgame tirade in which he appeared to call out offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski while speaking with reporters.
When he was asked about the running game, Newton said, "I'm not the play caller. ... When we run the football it hasn't been exciting like we want it to be but you still have to call the plays. It's kind of putting a strangle on our passing game.
"We've got to be more balanced, it's evident, but the job's got to get done. ... We just find a way to keep the game close and just wait to see what happens at the end. I'm getting tired of it. That's not a formula to win. Domination is a formula to win."
Hurney spent a lot of the team's money on the running game, giving backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart big-money deals. Williams got a five-year, $43 million contract a year ago. Stewart received a six-year, $37.8 million deal in August. They are among the nine highest-paid running backs in the league. Hurney also gave $10 million to Mike Tolbert, the team's third back.
But Newton leads the team in rushing with 273 yards. Williams is second with 177, averaging 3.5 yards per carry. The team has just seven rushing touchdowns this season.
Williams had only two carries against the Cowboys, his fewest in a game since Sept. 30, 2007. Williams' contract includes $21 million guaranteed, but Chudzinski hasn't used him much over the past two seasons. From 2008-10, Williams averaged 16 carries per game. In 22 games with Chudzinski as his offensive coordinator, Williams is averaging nine carries per game.
Newton was not just frustrated with the running game. Carolina lost another close game despite having opportunities to win.
"This taste, this vibe -- I'm not buying it, man," Newton said. "And I don't know what it is but something's going to have to change. Something's going to have to change real fast."
The Panthers' offense is a far cry from what it was last season when Newton threw for more than 4,000 yards in being awarded the NFL Rookie of the Year.
"We just find a way to keep the game close and just wait to see what happens at the end," Newton said. "I'm getting tired of it. That's not a formula to win. Domination is a formula to win."
Newton ended the session by referring to a female reporter as "sweetheart" when she asked him what can be done to put more points on the board.
"I'm going to leave this (media) room and I'm going to bring in a suggestion box and I want your suggestions to be in that suggestion box because I sure don't know," Newton said. "I really don't. I wish I could tell you. But the only thing I control, sweetheart, is myself. Offensively, I am the leader of this bunch and we haven't been getting the job done."
Richardson has shown impatience in the past with head coaches, firing George Seifert after just two seasons, so Ron Rivera could be on the hot seat. Rivera is in his second year with the Panthers and owns a 7-15 record.
Richardson hired Bill Polian as the team's first general manager in 1994. Polian has said he still wants to work in the league in an executive capacity since being bounced by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay in January.
Hurney was the Panthers' general manager since 2002.
"This was an extremely difficult decision," Richardson said in a team statement. "Marty made every effort to bring success to the Panthers and took the team to a Super Bowl and two NFC championship games. Unfortunately, we have not enjoyed the success we hoped for in recent years. I have the greatest respect and admiration for Marty and will always appreciate the way he tirelessly served the organization."
The Panthers have the worst record in the NFC at 1-5 after finishing 6-10 last season.
"I am very fortunate to have been a part of one of the best organizations in the NFL since 1998," Hurney said in a team-issued statement. "... I will always regret not helping us win the Super Bowl or having back-to-back winning seasons. I hope this change starts accomplishing the direction to those goals. I understand this decision by Mr. Richardson and will always have an extremely close relationship with him. I consider him the best owner in the NFL. I am responsible for everybody in coaching, the players, the scouts and everybody in football operations."