Monday, December 28, 2009

Commentary: Fox, Hurney to stay at Carolina in 2010

John Fox has apparently saved his job... for another year at least.

A report in Monday's Charlotte Observer says that both Fox and Panthers' General Manager Marty Hurney will both return in 2010 but that no extension will be given to Fox, who has taken the Panthers to the post-season three times since being hired in 2002 to replace George Seifert who led the Panthers to a dismal 1-15 season.

The report credits the Panthers' upset wins over the Minnesota Vikings on December 20th and this weeks 41-9 shocker over the New York Giants as the catalyst for keeping Fox around another year.

Fox, Hurney, and the current coaching staff will stay in 2010. But then the question of what's next will be the topic of conversation on ESPN and various radio and television markets in the Carolinas and probably around the nation as well. The Panthers are currently 7-8 on the season heading into the season finale with New Orleans on Sunday afternoon.

Fox is one of two coaches in NFL history to inherit a team with only one win in the season before their arrival and later take that team to a Super Bowl. And that's pretty remarkable considering the only other coach to accomplish that was Vince Lombardi.

The Panthers have enjoyed the most success in their short history with Fox at the helm. His 68 wins are by far the most in the history of the franchise. In fact he has 22 more wins than Dom Capers (1995-1998) and Seifert (1999-2001) combined. He took the Panthers to their only Super Bowl appearance at the end of the 2003 season. He's taken the Panthers to the playoffs three times which is twice more than Capers did (1996). He has turned the franchise into one of the elite in the NFL with an explosive wide receiver in Steve Smith, a multi-time Pro Bowler Julius Peppers, and what I think is the best running back tandem in the league with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

But does he deserve to stay around another year? Despite another season of missing the playoffs after a disastrous start I'd have to think the answer is yes. Here's why: Who else are they gonna get to coach the Panthers? The list of quality coaches is very short right now in my opinion. Most of the top coaches already in the NFL are staying put. They've got success right now and why should they change that and risk being a failure?

Obviously the top candidate is former Steelers coach Bill Cowher. But other reports suggest he may be snatched up by Tampa Bay during this off-season. Who else can take over this franchise and win immediately? A college coach? Maybe another year of coaching changes in NCAA and NFL levels might land the Panthers a winner.

The second question I pose is this: does Marty Hurney deserve to stay around another year? Absolutely not. Look at the talent the Panthers have right now on both sides of the ball. Look at where the Panthers are struggling right now (specifically at quarterback, wide receiver, and defensive secondary.) How can a general manager of an NFL franchise not work to fix those problems? Part of the reason the Panthers struggled earlier this season was because Jake Delhomme couldn't find anybody downfield that actually wore a Panthers uniform. Interceptions were expected when he played. The Panthers have nobody to really compliment Steve Smith at wide receiver (now nobody after Smith's season ending injury on Sunday) and the defense struggled to contain both the pass and run until the last two weeks.

If the Panthers do not fix these problems in the off-season they will struggle again next year. I'll permit keeping John Fox but there is no reason at all to keep Hurney. The Panthers have gone to the playoffs three times in this decade. If significant changes aren't made now they might not make it back there for a long time to come.

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