It seems the Carolina's and beyond are overflowing with Fox hate these days. With many proclaimed Panther fans calling for Fox to be relieved of his head coaching job in Carolina after four poor pre-season outings, it seems everyone has forgotten that Carolina's history does go beyond the 2009 pre-season. In this, we will explore the past 8 years and see just how much coach John Fox has affected the Carolina Panthers, while also looking forward to the 2009 team and season. More after the jump!
First and foremost, allow me to introduce myself as a long-time Carolina Panthers follower and fan, through the ups and downs of the past as well as the future. Bandwagons need not even come around my way, I've no need of a ride.
Lately, I've sensed a quiet uproar amongst fellow Panther fans, growing ever so imminent as the pre-season reached its 2009 finale against Pittsburgh, cementing the 0-4 record that has caused everyone to hit the 'Panic' button. It is, actually, one that I find quite surprising and, personally, impatiently uncalled for. What is this uproar that I speak of? To put it simply, a single (compound, and non-existent) word that embodies its essence would be 'Foxhate'. More aptly entitled, 'Everybody Hates Fox'. That's right, nearly every Carolina Panthers follower, supporter, and self-proclaimed fan with access to an internet connection and the need to voice their opinion has turned on our once beloved head coach, Mr. John Fox himself. Some even dare take aim at the still recently recovered Jerry Richardson, the man responsible for bringing a national football team to the Carolina's in the first place.
For the sake of this piece maintaining relevance, lets focus on our star player (metaphorically speaking, of course) John Fox. Our hero and savior, relinquishing Seifert of his poorly filled role as head coach (although Seifert did bring Morgan, Jenkins, and Smith to us – and that's about it). I've seen countless internet postings calling for the release of John Fox as head coach, some for semi-valid reasons, others for... well, reasons not so intelligently thought out. So, lets first look back at the positive things that have happened since Fox took over back in '02. Students, please open your history books.
Everyone need take a moment to remember the 2001 season, you know, the one where Carolina almost joined the highly secluded Lions' Club, only 7 years prior. However, Minnesota helped them to narrowly avoid a vice-versa situation which would have seen the Lions joining the Panthers' Club in 2008, 7 years later. That's all nothing more than a "what if" theory, though, and not the point of this article.
It does, however, aid the point, being it was that very next season we seen first time head coach John Fox take over, and what a take over it was. Bringing in Julius Peppers, DeShaun Foster, and Will Witherspoon with Carolina's first three draft picks, Fox would turn the Panthers around, going 7 and 9. Following up that change of momentum in his second season, Fox signed both Jake Delhomme and Stephen Davis before the start of the 2003 season. It would be those two crucial signings that enabled him to take the Carolina Panthers to Houston to co-star Super Bowl XXXVIII in only his second season as head coach. John Fox was only seconds away from going 1 and 15 to winning the Super Bowl in two seasons when a tie-breaking field goal snatched the opportunity away, crushing the dreams of Panther fans everywhere.
The following 2004 season was hampered by numerous injuries, limiting them to a poor 7-9 season. 2005 would see John Fox and the Panthers rise back to glory, posting an 11-5 season, and go all the way to the conference game, coming up short to the Seattle Seahawks. As history always proves to repeat itself, the next two seasons once again seen the Panthers smothered beneath injuries. It also lead way to the loss of Stephen Davis, whom never fully recovered from his leg injury, presenting us with the painfully endured "Foster Years".
Thankfully, one of the best things to come out of those two frightful years would be DeAngelo Williams. After serving his rookie, as well as first pro, season on back-up duty, DeShaun Foster was released and DeAngelo took over the starting position, and took it never looking back. Fox then drafted Jonathan Stewart in the first round of the 2008 draft to take over back-up duties for Williams. This, along with a roster returning most starters healthy, set the road to the Panthers best season in 12 years, finishing 12-4 and soaring into the playoffs only to fall short against the Arizona Cardinals, in what many consider a fluke game. So, the Panthers did what many other teams had already and went back to the drawing board.
That brings us to the 2009 season, which is very close to commencing. Training camp, and pre-season, has been eerily reminiscent of multiple seasons passed, where many Panthers go down due to injury resulting in a borderline .500 season, only to come back better than ever before. The Panthers have never had back-to-back winning seasons, unless you consider 8-8 a winning season. History seemingly looks to repeat itself once more, but this time we have the weapons to break the cycle and post another winning season. If you trust nothing else, trust in this: Carolina is dangerous enough to go all the way. Anyone doubting that probably have the Detroit Lions winning their Super Bowl, this year.
Due to the fact that the Panthers lost four inconsequential pre-season games, among other, less significant, reasons, everyone is ready to abandon Fox. I guess we Panther fans are harder to please than originally thought. Our best season to date under Fox, followed by what could very well be an even better season sans nagging injuries, is simply not enough to satisfy the masses. Not a single person has yet to see a game consisting of all starters, yet we're already disowning our own team? The rest of the league will surely do plenty of that, I see no reason we should aid them.
While most of you are screaming for Fox's release, complaining about Julius Peppers' contract, or whining because we didn't take a chance and sign Michael Vick (which would have probably been at the expense of an already thin depth chart thanks to aforementioned contract, if it was even possible), I'm looking forward to what the best coach we've ever had is going to be doing this year. We won't win them all, no, I don't expect such, but we're still in position to run the NFC South again.
Allow me to open your eyes to the positive side of things. I call it optimism. After we cover the major guns, I'll let you know just how this directly relates to Fox.
Look, everyone has had their Jake moment. Right when he plays that game where you believe he can't possibly get any worse, you're mind is made up; the Panthers need a new starting QB. That seems to be pretty common nowadays, more so for some than others. The fact is, Jake is here, hate it or love it. The same man credited with throwing countless interceptions and costing us the playoff game last season is the same man that took us to the Super Bowl in 2003; the same man that has orchestrated countless fourth quarter "down and out" comebacks that are now seemingly forgotten. He's hit and miss, we know that, but when he's healthy, he hits more often than he misses.
Sorry, I've never been a Matt Moore fan. It's not that I dislike him, it's just that he has never given me reason to like him. He has had some good games, but everyone has had some good games. It's Josh McCown that I like. Don't ask why, because that I truly cannot answer. The guy has never had a good season. I mean, the best QB rating he has ever garnered over a single season is 74.9, and when compared to Delhomme's consistent mid 80's rating (the worst rating Delhomme has ever ended a season with was in the 2003 season, that being an 80.6) , I don't think fans would take too kindly to McCown producing another mid 70's season. I think McCown has potential, though, and in due time may provide the first decent back-up QB Carolina has ever known... and beyond.
Being "the best back in the NFL" is a touchy subject these days, so lets just go with the term "the most productive back in the NFL". Who else scored 18 rushing touchdowns last season? Don't worry, I'll wait. In a league that doesn't provide points for yardage, I'm more concerned with who's putting points on the board versus who's running up and down the field the most.
Say what you will, but deep in the furthest most depths of everyone's minds, the truth is known. That truth being that Carolina holds the best committee in the league. Running back tandems are ever so popular these days as it seems every team is trying to get one. If NFL were rap music, running back duos are auto-tune, only they're not exhaustively played out yet. As stated above, I'm all about the touchdowns, and what team produced 30 rushing touchdowns last season? Yeah, it was Carolina. Six touchdowns away lies Tennessee, followed closely with Atlanta only trailing by seven. If Stewart comes out healthy, hitting as hard as he was last season, the league is in trouble – again.
And per say Stewart doesn't come out swinging? Reminiscent a, say, Cadillac Williams? Well there's certainly another rookie in our backfield ready to do just what Stewart did last year, only this one was a fourth round pick! Imagine that. Fourth in preseason rushing, all the while getting many touches against first string defenses, Goodson isn't to be taken lightly. A running back trio could prove fatal to opposing defenses. The Titans can have Smash & Dash, "that's so last year".
Ah, the forgotten wide receiver. Here's to hope that Delhomme and Smith can rekindle that connection once again. If our passing game can improve (oddly enough, by regressing a few years), while our run game simply maintains, Smith will be as deadly as ever. Seriously, you tell me, which monster do you cover?
Yes, Moose is still here. Breakout season? No, I think those are over. Another steadily productive season moving chains and taking pressure off of Steve Smith? Correct. Muhsin is worth his weight if he only catches one pass this season.
Expecting Jarret next? Sorry. Kenneth Moore is up. Unproven, green, third string. Those are three terms that currently describe Moore. Those are three terms that you will not remember by the time my birthday rolls around (that being two months from now, by the way). Do I have facts to back up my prediction beyond four lost preseason games? Nope. Do I expect many to agree with this prediction? No sir. Do I still stand firm in my belief that Moore will be the third receiver by mid-season? Yes, I do. He wants it, and determination goes a long way.
Jarrett, albeit promising, still has improving to do. Although he may be around the same level, or even slightly ahead of, Moore, I see Moore progressing quicker than Jarrett. Jarrett is going to move slowly but when he does arrive, you'll know. Call it a gut feeling, or instinct, but I don't see Jarrett stepping up until Moose steps down. There goes another bold prediction.
The offensive line returns mostly intact, so long as they persevere and play at a similar level as last year - providing Williams, Stewart, and Goodson with holes to hit - there shouldn't be too much to worry about. Delhomme may take a few sacks, but nothing too severe. Oh, and two months from now, remember I said Duke.
To go through defensive players one by one would not only be tiresome, but also quite lengthy, thus I'll cover them all under one category. Julius Peppers - Just wait until the season starts and the sacks actually matter. Everette Brown - A rookie with something to prove, and the talent to do it. Jon Beason - Welcome back. Thomas Davis - Coming off of his best season yet, ready to improve. Damione Lewis – Also coming off of, arguably, his best season to date, ready to take the argument out of '09. - Been around, always consistent. Nick Hayden - There is hope for the rookie to step up afterall. Tyler Brayton - May not worry the defenses much, but a solid player is better than a weak link. Harris & Godfrey - Back for more, minus the hand. Gamble & Marshall – Shut down and locked out; game over.
So what does all of this have to do with John Fox? It's simple, really, it is. Aside from Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad, Fox brought them all to Carolina. He even brought Muhammad back. This isn't just a good team Fox happened to land a head coaching job with, this is Fox's team. He took over when we were at our lowest, and took us to our highest point yet. Anyone who believes Carolina has fallen off, or isn't up to the task of repeating last season, please take this as an advisory. These guys did great last year, but they're ready to do better this year, because last year is over. Fox is here to stay, and for good reason.
In conclusion, I have but one question for anyone doubting our pre-season outings:
Would you rather play hard and go undefeated in the pre-season, only to lose half of your starters due to injury? Or would you rather play lax, get some game day experience in, and maintain, overall, a high percentage of healthy (starting) players?
Play smart, play hard when it matters.
PS: If Fox does guide the Panthers to a Super Bowl this season, how many of you yelling for his release are going to be his biggest fan? By my count, I say 100%.