Panthers hire Meeks to run defense

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers quickly filled their opening at defensive coordinator, hiring Ron Meeks on Monday to replace Mike Trgovac.

Four days after Trgovac abruptly left after being offered a contract extension, the Panthers turned their struggling defense to Meeks, who spent the past seven seasons running Indianapolis' unit.

While the Colts are best known for their offense, they finished in the top seven in points allowed five times during Meeks' tenure. Indianapolis led the NFL in scoring defense in 2007.

Meeks left Indy after Tony Dungy stepped down as coach at the end of this season.

"He's an outstanding teacher who has enjoyed great success as a coordinator in the league and brings a strong background of coaching championship defenses," said Panthers coach John Fox, who has seen five assistants step down since their upset loss to Arizona in the playoffs.

The 54-year-old Meeks will take over a defense that got worse as this season went on. Carolina allowed 30 or more points in six of its last seven games, including in the 33-13 loss to the Cardinals.

The Panthers may also have to deal with the departure of four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers, an impending free agent who has said he wants to play elsewhere next season.

"This is a great opportunity," Meeks said in a statement. "I have followed the Panthers from my involvement in football and they have done a great job over the years. I expect to continue that success while trying to improve as well."

He'll also have to mesh with Fox, who had taken an active role in Trgovac's defense the past two seasons. Trgovac, who had finished his seventh season on Fox's staff and his sixth year running the defense, turned down a two-year contract extension.

The Panthers went with Meeks instead of pursuing other former head coaches such as Jim Haslett and Herm Edwards, who was a college teammate of Fox.

Meeks began his coaching career at alma mater Arkansas State in 1984 and spent seven seasons in the college ranks before getting a job on Dallas' staff. He served as secondary coach at Cincinnati and Atlanta and later was an assistant for St. Louis' NFC title team in 2001. He moved to Indianapolis a year later.

The Panthers also must replace three more defensive assistants: linebackers coach Ken Flajole, defensive line coach Sal Sunseri and secondary coach Tim Lewis.

Flajole left to become defensive coordinator at St. Louis. Sunseri took a job at Alabama and Lewis become secondary coach at Seattle.