Terry Francona to leave Red Sox?

Terry Francona told Boston Red Sox staff members Thursday that he will not be returning as manager, a club source said Friday.

Francona's fate could be decided in a meeting of the team's upper management of owner John Henry, CEO Larry Lucchino and chairman Tom Werner. Francona did meet with Red Sox brass at Fenway Park on Friday but left before noon ET without commenting.

Despite general manager Theo Epstein's declaration during a news conference Thursday at Fenway that "we don't believe in scapegoats, in particular nobody blames Tito for what happened in September," Francona's future with the team remains very much in doubt.

Francona himself reinforced the idea that after eight seasons, he may have run his course as manager.

"It's a fair question," he said when asked if he wanted to be back.

To a follow-up inquiry if this had been his most trying season, Francona said: "Only because it's now. There's not a whole lot here that isn't trying even in the best of, you know, because everything is so important to people here and that's good. But because it's fresh and raw, it seems that way, but there have been a lot of trying moments here. We just fought through them, I think, a little bit better."

Regarding Francona's contract, the Red Sox have until a week from Saturday to pick up club options for one or both of the next two seasons, but Epstein said upper management and ownership will take a breather and reassess everyone in the organization in the next few days -- including Francona. His options are worth $4.25 million each for 2012 and 2013.

"Tito and I spent some time talking today, just catching up on the season and talking about what the next few days will look like," Epstein said. "We're going to get together, all the ownership, Larry and I and Tito over the next several days and talk about the season and talk about the future.

"We're less than 24 hours removed from the end of the season, so we need some time to calm down and get objective and look at ourselves, look at 2011 and look ahead and make the best decisions for everybody."

In the course of those discussions, the group is likely to address a perception held by some within the organization that this team -- despite four wildly successful months -- operated in a vacuum of clubhouse leadership. This, in turn, cultivated a climate of a lack of accountability, over which the manager presided with a curious sense of detachment, a marked departure from his previous approach, when he was fully engaged with his entire roster.

That perception wasn't unique to the front office. A veteran Red Sox player, in the wake of Wednesday's devastating loss in Baltimore, said the clubhouse had "zero" chemistry with too many "me-me-me" guys. That might have been more easily dismissed as typical heat-of-the-moment carping if Francona, somewhat surprisingly, hadn't alluded to internal problems in the clubhouse during Thursday's news conference. That might raise eyebrows among players accustomed to the manager always having their backs and keeping their issues in-house.

But that didn't happen Thursday, which may be another clue that Francona doesn't expect to return. He talked about a team meeting he called in Toronto in the aftermath of a 14-0 win on Sept. 6.

"I'm not sure if anybody knew, because there were some things I was worried about," he said. "I think we were spending too much energy on things that weren't putting our best foot forward toward winning. We spent a few minutes in the clubhouse that day, talking about that. There were some things that did concern me.

"Teams normally, as the season progresses, there are events that make you care about each other, and this club, it didn't always happen as much as I wanted it to. And I was frustrated by that."

Without anyone firmly at the rudder -- including, some in the organization believe, Francona -- the team lost focus, which became apparent in both on- and off-the-field behavior, part of which surfaced as a conditioning issue.

"I think we have high standards in that area and other areas," Epstein said, "and I can't sit here and say those standards have been met across the board."

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Information from ESPNBoston.com's Joe McDonald was used in this report.