The only interesting storyline for the Carolina Panthers this season is how it all ends.
Here’s my best guess:
Even if the team keeps losing, owner Jerry Richardson will not pull the plug on John Fox and go with an interim coach. The only way that would change would be if Fox takes shots at the front office or ownership, which is not out of the realm of possibility, or completely loses control of the team.
As soon as the season ends, though, Fox will be gone. His contract is up after the season and he’s not getting a new one with the Panthers. The rest of the coaching staff will go as well, although there might be an assistant or two that gets to stick around. But don’t look for the Panthers to turn to defensive coordinator Ron Meeks or offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson as their next head coach.
Like it or not, general manager Marty Hurney probably will stay. At one point, Fox and Hurney were viewed as a package deal, but it hasn’t been that way for several years. Hurney remains in Richardson’s good graces, and he and team president Danny Morrison, who runs the business side, will probably be the ones conducting the search for the next head coach.
Don’t get your hopes too high on big names. If Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden or Tony Dungy want to coach, it will be elsewhere. With the labor situation likely to still be unsolved, Richardson is not going to pay the kind of money one of the big names would command.
He was burned by that once before when he hired George Seifert. Besides, a big-name coach isn’t necessarily what the Panthers need right now. They’ve got a fan base that’s not very happy and they need a coach who will bring in fresh air and also be a bit of a cheerleader.
What they need is a guy like Fox was in 2002. Back in those days, Fox would grab the microphone at training camp and talk to the fans. He was part cheerleader and part coach.
Somewhere along the way, probably right after the Panthers went to the Super Bowl in the 2003 season, Fox started frowning on doing anything but coaching. His contract called for certain public duties and Fox did them, but he did them reluctantly and it was noticed.
When Hurney, Morrison and Richardson look for the next guy, they’ll look for someone who is willing to be a salesman as well as a coach. But will they go the total anti-Fox route?
That would mean going with an offensive-minded coach, something the Panthers never have had. That choice probably will be up to Hurney, and it will be interesting to see if he’s willing to go that route.
Part of the reason for Fox’s downfall is that he never was willing to change, never was willing to adapt. Hurney might be wise to keep that in mind.
The general manager has a full-blown youth movement on his hands. But, as he sat in Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, Hurney at least got to see the upside of a youth movement. He saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are flourishing after getting rid of almost all their veterans following the 2009 season. The Bucs are 6-3, mainly because they’ve put their total trust in quarterback Josh Freeman, and coach Raheem Morris has fully embraced the youth movement.
Keep in mind, Hurney is the guy that drafted quarterback Jimmy Clausen this year. Just a hunch here, but I’m thinking the guy who ultimately gets the Carolina job is the guy who says the magic words to Hurney – “I can turn Jimmy Clausen into a good NFL quarterback.’’
Who is that guy?
I don’t think anyone’s been identified by the Panthers just yet. But Hurney has old ties to Arizona assistant head coach Russ Grimm. Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy used to be Carolina’s quarterbacks coach and is respected within the organization. Kansas City offensive coordinator Charlie Weis coached Clausen at Notre Dame.
There are other rising stars out there like New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Or let’s really step off the charts here; what about Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Greg Olson?
Look at what he’s done with Freeman in a very short period of time. And look at that clear-out route he ran for a touchdown pass to rookie Arrelious Benn on Sunday. I think it’s safe to bet the current Panthers don’t even have a play like that in their playbook.
Speaking of that playbook, Hurney, Morrison and Richardson need to rip it up. Sometimes the best way to go is in the exact opposite direction. Fox was a good coach in Carolina for a relatively long time. But his system and his methods got stale because he never adjusted.
The Panthers need more than a coaching change. They need a change in mindset.