Richardson's sons resign unexpectedly

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The two sons of Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson resigned from high-ranking jobs in the organization Tuesday, an unexpected shake-up in one of the NFL's most stable and successful franchises.

Team president Mark Richardson and Bank of America Stadium head Jon Richardson announced their decisions in a written statement. They were expected to eventually take over the team from their 73-year-old father, whose role has been limited since a February heart transplant.

The two men didn't give a reason for leaving and the resignations take effect immediately. Both will remain members of the ownership group, but left unclear is who will assume their management roles and run the franchise in the future.

When asked if the franchise would be put up for sale, team spokesman Charlie Dayton said "absolutely not."

Mark Richardson had represented the team at owners meetings and was a member of the league's influential competition committee.

"The commissioner appoints committee members and will replace Mark in due time," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

Jerry Richardson told several members of the ownership group of the moves Tuesday morning. He later said in a statement that Mark and Jon "made great contributions to the stadium and the team that have enabled us to enjoy much success over the last 15 years. At the same time, I am thankful that we have a staff that has been in place for many years and knows our philosophy."

The three Richardsons declined further comment through a team spokesman.

The NFL in 1993 awarded the expansion team to the Richardsons. Jon Richardson oversaw the construction of Charlotte's downtown stadium, which the family owns through revenue from permanent seat licenses. Mark Richardson became team president in 1998 after Mike McCormack retired.

"One thing I can say is I have the utmost trust and confidence in Mr. Richardson to do what's best for this team and organization," coach John Fox said.

The team said Jon Richardson, who has successfully battled cancer, had been planning to leave for a month. Mark Richardson's resignation was more surprising. He had taken over much of the day-to-day control of the team since his father's hospitalization last year.

Jerry Richardson has been around the team little in the past 10 months. He attended one training camp practice last month and watched Carolina's exhibition game against Baltimore on Saturday from a luxury suite.

The announcement stunned a tight-knit community where major figures in other sports mix.

NASCAR team owner and Charlotte Bobcats minority investor Felix Sabates said he was "shocked." He added that he saw Jerry and Mark Richardson together at a restaurant having a "father-son dinner" just a few weeks ago.

"A little family squabble, huh? I mean that's very obvious," said Bruton Smith, the billionaire owner of Lowe's Motor Speedway in suburban Charlotte.

Mark Richardson was instrumental in cost-cutting measures this year, which included about 20 layoffs in the business and marketing departments. He said the moves were made because of a reduction in sponsorship revenue. The Panthers have sold out 52 consecutive games and have the advantage of owning their own stadium.

"It has been a great opportunity to work with a franchise from the start and have a chance to see it mature," Mark Richardson said in a statement. "It has been a unique experience to see dreams become reality."

Fox told the players of the news as they left the practice field.

"Obviously both guys will be missed," said receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who has spent 11 of his 14 NFL seasons with the Panthers. "For whatever reason they resigned, no one knows exactly what that is. But we all have complete trust and faith in Mr. Richardson's ability to put good people in place."