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Fox waiting to hear Richardson's endorsement to coach in '08

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A day after Carolina finished out of the
playoffs for the second straight year, John Fox remained confident
that he'll return as the Panthers' coach.

He just won't be sure until owner Jerry Richardson says so.

When asked Monday if Richardson would finally address the status
of Fox and general manager Marty Hurney, team spokesman Charlie
Dayton said it was unlikely.

In an e-mail later Monday, Dayton would only say that "nothing
has changed" regarding Fox and Hurney.

It meant a day of uncertainty at Bank of America Stadium as
players gathered for final physicals and a team meeting before
leaving with their belongings for the offseason. Not only do many
players worry if they'll be back after a disappointing 7-9 campaign
that's sure to bring many changes, they don't know about their
coach.

"I haven't been told anything," running back DeAngelo Williams
said.

Later in the morning, an evasive Fox indicated he expects to
return for a seventh season.

"Our ownership has been very supportive, very positive," said
Fox, who has three years left on a contract that pays him about $5
million per season. "I never have foreseen changes with Marty or
myself, and I don't anticipate them moving forward. I don't have a
crystal ball. I can't predict the future. There has been plenty of
speculation, I will say that. But I don't see it changing from any
years past."

The speculation has been fueled by a second straight sub-par
season and Richardson's refusal to address the situation.

The NFL Network reported during Carolina's loss to Dallas on
Dec. 22 that Richardson said in an off-camera interview that Fox
and Hurney's jobs were safe. But team officials declined to confirm
the report, and Richardson wasn't talking again on Monday.

When Fox was asked Monday if Richardson has told him he'll be
retained, he referred to how he answered the same question after
Sunday's 31-23 win over Tampa Bay. When asked if that meant he
wasn't commenting, Fox replied, "That is what I said yesterday."

Following a season of unfilled expectations and injuries, Fox
has pinned much of the blame for Carolina's second straight
non-winning campaign on the loss of quarterback Jake Delhomme. He
had a season-ending right elbow injury in Week 3.

The Panthers then turned to David Carr, who was Carolina's only
major offseason acquisition. Despite his two-year, $6 million deal,
Carr was a bust. He got hurt and then was so ineffective, the
Panthers turned to 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde and undrafted
rookie Matt Moore to finish the season.

Behind Moore, the Panthers did rally to win two of their last
three games. Perhaps that was enough for Fox, who is 56-49 in
Carolina with one Super Bowl appearance and a trip to the NFC
championship game in 2005, to keep his job.

"I've got three years left on my contract that I intend to
uphold," Fox said. "I'll just say that."

Hurney has also said he plans to be back next season. Fox said
they'll begin a series of meetings on Wednesday to evaluate the
season and prepare for free agency.

It was also clear on Monday that Fox has the support of his
players.

"Where would you find someone [to replace him]? It doesn't
happen," Delhomme said. "John is the right guy. It's been
evident. We didn't play that well this season and he will be the
first to tell you that 'Maybe I should have done a better job of
coaching.'

"That's John. He's going to take the blame. And the one thing
about him is he knows how to work."

The Panthers have plenty to work on. Delhomme said his
rehabilitation remains on schedule and he hopes to start throwing
by the middle of February. Whether he can effectively return from
reconstructive surgery may determine Carolina's fortunes.

The Panthers must also decide whether to pay big money to
re-sign unrestricted free agent tackle Jordan Gross and whether to
give defensive end Julius Peppers, coming off a hugely
disappointing season, a megadeal.

Defensive end Mike Rucker will likely retire, although he again
wasn't saying for sure on Monday.

But Rucker was adamant that Fox should be back next season.

"He's a coach that when we're coming off as a defense, he's the
first one to give you a high-five or try to pump you up," Rucker
said. "You don't see that a whole lot in coaches nowadays. I think
he's one of the few that can charge you up. He's definitely a guy
you want coaching your football team."