Will he stay or will he go? Will he even be asked? I honestly don't know. I like John Fox. He is the first person to really turn the Panthers into a perennial playoff contender. In his tenure, he has gone 68-52 overall and 5-3 in the post season. In 2003, just 2 years removed from a team that went 1-15 we were in the Super Bowl something I don't believe anyone really saw coming. With one exception (the 2009 seasons), the only thing that has stopped John Fox's teams have been injuries. In 2004, we had a league high 14 people on IR, including our top 4 RBs and our best WR. In 2006, Delhomme was out for 4 games which led to a 4 game skid that derailed our playoff hopes. In 2007, Delhomme was lost for the year after week 3.
But even still, after really making something out of this organization, there is a strong possibility that Fox will be coaching his last year here. More after the jump...
It all starts at the top with coach John Fox, who enters his ninth and final year with the Panthers.
I say final because his contract is up after the season and there’s no way he comes back. If the Panthers stumble and fail to make the playoffs again, they look for a new coach. If Fox surprises everyone and reaches the playoffs, I'm convinced he tells the Panthers to stick it and looks for a new team – as well as a big fat contract.
A team source I trust immensely told me earlier this offseason, "There’s a zero percent chance he’s back" and he’s not changed his mind one bit.
Though he won’t say it publically, Fox is more than a little put off by the fact Jerry Richardson didn’t extend his contract after the Panthers won the NFC South in 2008 with a 12-4 record (even though that season ended with a miserable 20-point loss at home to the Arizona Cardinals).
That drove a dagger into the relationship between Fox and owner Jerry Richardson. But it became severed this past offseason when Richardson again refused to extend his deal and allowed Fox to pursue other openings. Fox didn’t, not out of loyalty but because there weren’t any attractive openings on the horizon. Have you ever been to Buffalo? I have and it's cold, miserable and depressing, unless you grew up there and like that sort of thing.
It wasn't until I read this article that I really started to doubt my earlier impressions that Fox would be back for the next season, whenever that happens. To me, it didn't seem like much of a big deal. Hurney was extended this summer after his contract expired. I fully expected the same to happen with Fox. Now... I find that a little harder to believe. I happen to hold Steve Reed's opinions in fairly high regard and trust (although not always agree with) what he says. But if Fox is gone... who replaces him? That's the discussion I would like to have.
Known Quantities: Previous Head Coaches
Bill Cowher: He is probably the most talked about in terms of Fox's replacement. Multiple "unnamed sources" have sited that he has expressed interest in the job over the years. He already lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, but more so than that, the Panthers have a strong relationship with the Pittsburgh Steelers and as was brought up many times in the past, what better way to emulate the Steelers than by hiring their former head coach?
But sadly, if that was going to happen I believe the time has passed. Cowher may have wanted to get back into coaching before, but after the death of his wife, he said he had other priorities besides coaching. Even still, this popular choice by the fans will certainly be a talking point if Fox truly is let go.
Tony Dungy: After coaching the Colts from 2002 to 2008, he retired from coaching, however he is widely considered one of the best coaches around. He is given credit for formulating the now widely known "Tampa 2" cover defense and in his 7 years as the head coach of the Colts, he mounted an impressive 85 - 27 overall record, finishing no worse than 10 - 6, and two Super Bowl appearances, including one win. The question though is whether or not he has any interest in the job at all. There is possibility though. After Mike Trgovac was fired, we picked up Ron Meeks who was the defensive coordinator under Dungy while in Indy. I would call this a longshot at best, however.
Marty Schottenheimer: One thing both Cowher and Dungy have in common is their lineage to the very respectable Marty Schottenheimer as both were coaches under him at one time or another. His last coaching tenure was with the San Diego Chargers where disputes with the General Manager led to his departure. He is a well known coach who has been coaching for longer than I've been alive (26 years) with an impressive resume that marks him as 200 - 126 overall and includes an impressive 13 post-season appearances, although never once making it to the Super Bowl. I remember when there were first rumblings of John Fox's departure, Schttenheimer was recently removed from the Chargers and was regularly brought up as a counter option to Bill Cowher. If the interest is still there, he may very well be a man to consider.
New Blood: Non-Head Coaches
Ron Meeks: It may be premature to promote this Meeks to the big job of Head Coach for the Panthers. However, this would give the team some much needed stability in the event that Fox does in fact leave. You can believe that Meeks would likely find a defensive coordinator who would fit in with his pre-established scheme. Meeks is apart of the Schottenheimer lineage of coaches, being an assistant under Tony Dungy. It remains to be seen what he can do outside of Indy with a team whose clear focus is defense, but if the Panther sof last year and this preseason are anything to show for it, then you better believe he is the real deal. However, does this warrant a head coach position?
Jeff Davidson: I don't believe Davidson's case is particularly strong. Although our rushing attack has flourished under him, it is safe to say that our passing game has not faired so well. His tenure as an offensive coordinator has been limited to a part of his 2006 season with the Browns and his time here. However, to his advantage this would also help promote some stability within the team in the wake of Fox's departure. At the very least he should deserve some consideration for the position, even if he may not be a front runner. In light of today's performance, I believe Davidson should be removed from any talk of head coach candidacy until he proves he knows how to do more than run the same play 3 times in a row.
Outside of Carolina though, there would be serious question marks for many coaches. I've been looking over several of the top defenses and offensive from the past couple years. Sadly, these successful coaches are a premium and there is a very high turnover within the NFL. Many are snatched up to become head coaches after one or two successful seasons and from there they either succeed as a head coach (like Fox) or have been quickly released after 2 or 3 years of coaching. Nevertheless, there are a few standouts:
Dick LeBeau: Considered one of the best defensive coordinators in the league, but never led the Bengals to a winning season between 2000 and 2002.
Sean McDermott: Widely considered a rising coaching talent, he took over for the Eagles as Defensive Coordinator after Jim Johnson died of cancer, but has only had one year of experience at the position.
Mike Pettine: Led the Jets as the #1 Defense in the league as the defensive coordinator under Rex Ryan in their first year, but has only had one season as a defensive coordinator.
So the question remains... If John Fox is truly seeing the last of his days here in Carolina, just who could possibly replace him? I'm not always the biggest Fox fan. He is an old school kinda guy who is very much sticks to his philosophy (although at least he's not as grumpy as Belichick). But you cannot deny that he has turned the Panthers organization into a respectable franchise.
Who would you have replace him?