Ex-GM thinks John Fox knows blueprint for draft success

CHICAGO -- It was 2002 with the Carolina Panthers coming off a 1-15 season when brand new head coach John Fox and then-Panthers general manager Marty Hurney formulated their draft strategy.

"We knew that first year we wanted to try and make our defense as strong as we could," Hurney told ESPN.com on Monday. "We had a chance to draft an elite athlete, an elite pass-rusher at defensive end. It was an easy decision."

The Panthers took Julius Peppers with the second pick and two years later they advanced to the Super Bowl.

Fox has inherited another team looking to turn things around as a 5-11 finish last year led to Ryan Pace replacing Phil Emery as general manager and Fox succeeding Marc Trestman. The relationship between Fox and Pace will be an important factor in whether the Bears can turn things around as quickly as Fox’s Panthers were able to accomplish.

Hurney said Fox’s pre-draft involvement extended to prospects on offense, not just defense, the side of the ball where Fox rose up the NFL ranks as a respected coordinator.

"John knows this is a quarterback league," Hurney said. "He knows that you need receivers to stretch the field and the importance of being a balanced offense. He knows his defense is a lot better with an offense that can get first downs and keep them off the field.

"He’s been in the business for a long time and has a really good feel for personnel. He knows players and he knows his vision of how the team should look. That’s something we were always on the same page with and I’m sure Ryan Pace and John Fox are on the same page with how they want the personality of the Bears to be. It’s not just about defense. John is the head coach, and he knows the best defense is a good offense."

Pace and Fox have spoken at length about the common respect and admiration the two men have for each another. The two have spearheaded an offseason plan that netted Chicago outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, wide receiver Eddie Royal, safety Antrel Rolle and controversial defensive end Ray McDonald, among others in free agency.

The next step in the relationship is the draft, and the Bears currently hold the seventh overall selection.

Hurney, Fox's partner for nine years in Carolina, envisions the 14-year NFL head coach and Pace finding that common ground.

"I think the way we did it, and even after John with Ron Rivera as well, is that we had a very open environment where the scouts were heard and were very active and the coaches’ opinions were heard," said Hurney, currently a radio host on ESPN 730 AM in Charlotte. "I think in every organization the general manager and head coach have to work as partners. They are hand-in-hand. In the draft, the general manager will make the final decision, but we always had input involved from everybody. You want as many people as possible to get a feel for the player you are bringing in. It’s an open environment where opinions are heard. I’m sure John and Ryan Pace have great communication."

The Hurney-Fox pairing produced three playoff appearances and a berth in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

"We usually took the approach where if there were major disagreements between scouts and coaches, or John and I, you pretty much go to the next guy," Hurney said. "The one thing you don’t want to do is bring a player in that the coaches don’t feel like is a fit, because if that’s the case, the player is fighting up-hill when he gets there. That’s the same in the reverse.

"You start by being on the same page with what you want to do, and then define the skill sets you want at each position. You can’t start the process before you go through that. You can’t find what you are looking for if you don’t know what you are looking for. That’s where the communication between the coaching side and player personnel side comes in and is so critical."