Henning, two other coaches fired by Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers fired offensive
coordinator Dan Henning and two other assistants Monday, two weeks
after finishing a disappointing 8-8 season.

Offensive line coach Mike Maser and secondary coach Rod Perry
were also let go, the first major moves by the Panthers after they
failed to make the playoffs despite preseason Super Bowl hopes.

The Panthers were hurt in part by numerous injuries on the
offensive line, but Henning's play calling also came under fire as
being too conservative as Carolina struggled to run and get the
ball to receiver Steve Smith.

"We thought that we needed a change,'' Panthers general manager
Marty Hurney said. "It just came down to a gut decision that we
thought that we made in an effort to hopefully get us jump-started
and improved.

"It's very hard to make these type of decisions. They're good
coaches and good people.''

The 65-year-old Henning, a former head coach with the Atlanta
Falcons and San Diego Chargers, was one of coach John Fox's first
hires shortly after he took over in 2002.

After going 7-9 in Fox's first season, the Panthers reached the
Super Bowl a year later and lost on a last-second field goal to New
England as quarterback Jake Delhomme, running back Stephen Davis
and Smith emerged under Henning's offense.

The Panthers lost to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game last
season as Smith led the league in catches, yards receiving and

But the Panthers, who have tried to build their offense around
their running game under Fox, struggled to score points. They
ranked 25th in total offense and had the worst third-down
conversion rate in the NFL despite signing Keyshawn Johnson in the
offseason to give Smith more help.

Critics and fans got louder in questioning Henning's decisions,
but Fox gave him a clear vote of confidence less than a month ago,
saying that the coaching staff "didn't become village idiots"

But Fox changed his tune Monday.

"This is a very difficult decision because these coaches have
played an integral role in the success we have experienced since
coming to the Panthers,'' Fox said. "They were part of a Super
Bowl and two NFC championship games and those accomplishments would
not have been possible without their contributions.''

Henning's firing leaves Johnson's future with the team in doubt.
The 34-year-old receiver said after the final game that if Henning
was fired, he would not return next season -- although he backed off
that stance a day later.

Johnson had little to say on the subject Monday.

"I'm continuing to evaluate my position, just like everybody
else," he said. "It's professional sports and it's unfortunate.
It's the nature of the business. We'll all be gone one day."

Maser joined the Panthers in 2003 and the Panthers had allowed
either zero or one sack in 27 games. But this year, the Panthers
lost offensive line starters Travelle Wharton, Justin Hartwig and
Mike Wahle to season-ending injuries, and the replacements
struggled. The Panthers ranked 22nd in rushing and Carolina gave up
32 sacks.

Perry was also on Fox's staff for the entire five seasons.
Starting cornerbacks Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble struggled this
season, with Lucas slowed by several injuries.

The Panthers have several other big decisions to make in the
offseason, including whether to bring back aging defensive players
Mike Minter and Mike Rucker and linebacker Dan Morgan, who missed
all but one game with lingering problems from numerous concussions.