Time for Panthers to move on

Fox Out In Carolina (1:09)

John Clayton on the Panthers' decision to not bring back head coach John Fox for the 2011 season (1:09)

The Carolina Panthers officially announced what we’ve known was coming for months, maybe longer.

They sent out an e-mail announcement that coach John Fox will not have his contract renewed. The team also said the contracts of Fox’s assistants will not be renewed.

FoxFoxThe news release contained the obligatory quotes from Fox and owner Jerry Richardson.

“I told John today that I appreciate everything he has done for us over the last nine years, but as happens in this business, it is time for both sides to move in different directions,” Richardson said. “While we haven’t accomplished all of the goals we set as an organization when we signed him in 2002, we have certainly had our share of high moments – the Super Bowl, two NFC Championship games, and a division title in 2008. We wish John and his family the best going forward.”

“I appreciate the opportunity Mr. Richardson gave me to be a head coach in the National Football League nine years ago and to be a part of this organization,” Fox said. “I have formed many close relationships and I have many great memories. I particularly want to thank the players for their efforts throughout the years. Working with so many great people has been a rewarding experience.”

Fox’s tenure will officially end Sunday when the Panthers conclude their season in Atlanta. None of this is any surprise. Fox was told back in 2008 that no long-term extension was on the horizon, unless he produced a consistent winner and the league’s labor situation was resolved, sources close to the situation said. At that point, a source said, Fox urged several assistant coaches to take other jobs that were available, and defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac and defensive line coach Sal Sunseri were among those to leave.

The sad thing here is that Fox was, by far, the best coach Carolina has had, and things shouldn’t have ended this way with the Panthers limping to a 2-13 record so far. The owner and the coach knew this type of ending was coming and Fox should have been fired or left on his own before this season. And there were indications Fox could have had another job.

What went wrong? Well, lots of things. But the short version is that Fox stayed nine seasons, which is an eternity for an NFL head coach. Somewhere along the way, and I’m guessing around 2006 or 2007, he and the owner started veering off in different directions. Egos got in the way and some other high-ranking team officials, some no longer with the team, played major roles in causing the divide.

Whatever, it’s time for the Panthers to move on, and you can bet that general manager Marty Hurney and team president Danny Morrison have a list of potential candidates. They’ll probably start interviewing next week.

They likely will look mostly at current coordinators across the league, but a source said a college coach or two also might be considered.