A cheer for John Fox

There has been a lot of talk in the Carolina media about how fans will respond to coach John Fox in what will be his final home game as coach of the Panthers. Newspapers, radio stations and websites are running polls and asking fans if they’ll boo or cheer Fox.

We’ve written tons all year on how things have deteriorated to this point, and we’ll probably do it some more because the Panthers have two more games after Sunday’s game with Arizona. We’ll probably get into Fox’s fall even more when he officially takes the fall.

But let’s just stay in the moment here. When I looked around and saw those polls, I asked myself what I would do if I were a Carolina fan sitting in Bank of America Stadium when Fox’s name is announced or his face is shown on the video screen.

It didn’t take me long to come up with my answer. I definitely would cheer for Fox. I’m not talking a two-minute standing ovation or chanting his name throughout the game. But a few claps and some genuine warmth are warranted. In fact, I think it’s the least Carolina fans can do for Fox.

Things are ending badly and Fox is definitely not without fault in all this mess. But the reason I’d clap for Fox is simple: I’m not looking at how things are ending. I’m looking at the total body of work.

Fox had a pretty nice run in Carolina. He’s not the best coach in NFL history. But he is the best coach in Carolina history – by far – and that alone should have earned Fox some respect from fans.

Yes, the guy could frustrate the heck out of you. His offense was maddeningly conservative. His reluctance to say much of anything in front of cameras or recorders was beyond frustrating, because you know there’s a very gregarious guy behind his public front.

But Fox was consistent from start to finish and, although that’s part of the reason for his downfall, it’s also part of the reason Fox had a nine-season run in Carolina. If you last nine seasons in any one place in the NFL, you’re doing something right.

Fox did plenty of things right at various times. He took the 2003 Panthers all the way to the Super Bowl, two seasons after George Seifert’s 1-15 mess. Fox might have had his best coaching season in 2005. It seemed like Carolina had about 12 running backs get hurt and Fox and his staff still coached the heck out of that team all the way to the NFC Championship Game.

Those were the good times and you already know about the bad. Through it all, Fox was consistent – at times, too consistent. But, overall, consistency isn’t a bad trait to have in a coach or a person.

Fox wasn’t one of those guys who is up one minute or down the next. He was a pro throughout, and that’s why I think he deserves a cheer.

I’ll also share one little behind-the-scenes story with you that might help show you that Fox is much more human and sensitive than he lets on. Toward the end of the 2007 season, which wasn’t a banner campaign for Fox as the Panthers limped through a season playing the likes of David Carr and Vinny Testaverde, I had accepted an offer to come to ESPN.com soon after I finished covering that season for The Charlotte Observer.

On the day I told Carolina public relations director Charlie Dayton and general manager Marty Hurney that I would be leaving, I was standing in the locker room a bit later. Fox, who rarely comes into the locker room during the media session and certainly had more important things on his mind, suddenly came bouncing in, smiling and calling my name. He congratulated me and thanked me for my time and efforts covering the Panthers. It meant a lot.

That’s why, if I could be a fan in Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, there is no question I would cheer for Fox.