John Fox and Marty Hurney have endured a lot of criticism since they were brought in after the 2001 season that saw the team endure an embarrassing 1-15 record, and a lot of the negative attitude from fans and analysts alike really has no foundation at all. I would like to make the case as to why we should keep Hurney and Fox around for the future, based on the positive contributions they have made to the team through the draft (Hurney) and on the sideline (Fox).
More on this after the jump...
It has been said about Hurney and Fox that they don't make enough noise during free agency, and they don't look out for the best interest of the team by their decisions to not offer huge contracts to big-name players. What most people fail to realize about Fox and Hurney, however, is the fact that they do look out for the best interest of the team. They build the team through the draft and player development, and continually put out a product on the field that is among the league's best, regardless of what the win-loss record may indicate. If you go back and look at the team's draft history since 2002, you will notice a lot of quality names that stand out. Guys like Julius Peppers, Jordan Gross, Thomas Davis, DeAngelo Williams, Jon Beason, Ryan Kalil, and Jonathan Stewart were all drafted by Hurney and Fox. I'm sure I don't need to elaborate on how vital these guys are (or have been, in Peppers' case) to the team - but as you can see, Hurney and Fox know how to draft the right players to fit the team's needs.
It can be argued (and has been argued ad nauseum) that Fox and Hurney don't deserve to be in Carolina anymore, and the most frequent reasoning is the fact that the franchise has yet to put together back-to-back winning seasons in its first 15 years of existence. But, that shouldn't be the ultimate gauge of success, because during the course of a football season many factors come in to play that determine a team's final record, and sometimes teams just cannot control the adversity they face. A perfect example of this is the 2004 season, which on paper is a 7-9 record sandwiched between two 11-5 records, but as most fans know is the season that the Panthers were totally decimated by injuries. (Steve Smith broke his leg during the first game, the top four RBs on the depth chart went down, Kris Jenkins went on IR with shoulder problems, and a total of 14 players were on the IR list at season's end. Given the fact that the team got off to a 1-7 start, it should be applauded that the team finished 7-9 and barely missed out on a playoff berth.)
When I look at the team's history since 2002, I don't see a team that can't put together back-to-back winning seasons. I see a team that hasn't had a 10+ loss season (one of only four in the league who haven't), I see a team that has won 71 games, I see a team that has made 3 playoff appearances (with 1 Super Bowl appearance), and I see a team that hasn't quit on its coach. John Fox may be coy with the media and may come across as a guy who doesn't have a clue sometimes, but the man has all the confidence and belief from the 53 men in the locker room every single week, and that's something that not many coaches can truly say.
The Panthers may have ended up 8-8 and missed the playoffs last season, but what most people don't see is that the team was dealing with a starting QB that had lost his mojo and several key injuries (Kemoeatu, Davis, & Gross, just to name a few) , all while trying to adjust to a new defensive scheme and coordinator on the fly. But Fox didn't lose the team and the locker room. The team found out towards the end of the season that they didn't have any chance to make the playoffs, and instead of cruising to the finish line like most teams do, they came out and made a statement by going 4-1 in their last 5 games, winning their final 3 in a row.
I'm not a gambling man, but if I were I would place a sure bet that the Panthers will be back in 2010. Based on the prior 8 years since Fox and Hurney took over this franchise, with the worst seasons being 7-9 records, I have no reason to doubt their judgment when they decided to let Delhomme go in favor of Moore, and I have no doubt that they knew what they're doing by letting Peppers walk with no compensation. I know that money had something to do with those choices, but I'm not convinced that they were strictly financial decisions (especially Delhomme). Besides, a lot of people thought Fox was crazy for putting in an unknown guy from Louisiana at quarterback in the first game of the 2003 season, but he did it anyway, and the result was a trip to the Super Bowl and a near-miss Lombardi trophy - so I think I will trust him when he puts Moore in for the start of the 2010 season, and expect the team to rally behind their new quarterback and put together a serious run for the playoffs.
Based on the way this team has played since the 2002 season, I just can't see any real reason that Fox and Hurney should not keep their jobs. We have one of the best organizations in the NFL, and it is because of the leadership at the top, from Richardson down to the coaching staff, that this is the case. It would be foolish to get rid of Fox and Hurney at this point because they have always bounced back from adversity before, so why wouldn't they do it this time? I stated earlier that the one of the biggest complaints from many fans and "experts" is that the Panthers have never had back-to-back winning seasons. But, since 2002, they've never had back-to-back losing seasons either - and that is due to the consistent leadership and player development from Hurney and Fox.
Why on earth would we ever want to get rid of that?