Carolina Panthers Retrospective
COLUMN: Fox distancing himself from Panthers personnel decisions E-mail
Written by Steve Reed   
Monday, 18 October 2010 08:22

John Fox doesn't want his reputation tarnished by a horrible final season. (Photo by John Clark)

   CHARLOTTE -- Come January, John Fox will be looking for a new job.
   His contract is up and he’s a free agent. He's as good as gone here.
   That means Fox has to do his best to make himself marketable and which means distancing himself from the mess that has become the 2010 Panthers, now undoubtedly the worst football team in the NFL. (Hey, at least the Bills and 49ers can score a few points).
   It’s hard for another organization to justify to its fan base hiring a head coach who’s coming off a 2-14 season — or whatever sorry record the Panthers will finish with this year — so Fox needs a little image management.
   Fox entered the season with a 71-57 career record, but he may be closer .500 by the team this season ends. So with each passing week you can expect Fox to continue to distance himself from the personnel decisions that have been made here.
   It first happened earlier this season when I asked Fox about the decision to trade Chris Harris and he stepped across the company line for the first time and admitted it was about “the budget” rather than going with young draft picks.
   On Wednesday, I asked Fox if, given the state of the team’s pathetic passing game, he regrets the decision not to add a veteran wide receiver to the offense this past offseason.
   His response said it all.
   “Again, those aren’t my decisions,” Fox said flatly. “Like I said, we’ve got what we’ve got. But it’s where we are and we coach who we got and try to get them better and hopefully get the results we want.”
   Intentionally or not, Fox is pushing those “decisions” off directly on management, specifically owner Jerry Richardson, who simply isn’t writing big checks anymore.
   You can say what you want about Fox’s coaching style, but it wasn’t his idea to blow up the roster and part ways with veterans like Jake Delhomme, Damione Lewis, Na’il Diggs, Maake Kemoeatu and Harris. He doesn’t like young teams. He likes veteran teams.
   And it wasn’t Fox’s idea to completely ignore the free agent market except for guys who were willing to play for the league minimum like Marcus Hudson and Wallace Wright. It’s a rough offseason when your big free agent addition is Aaron Francisco.
   It wasn’t Fox’s idea to go cheap and young.
   But that’s exactly what the Panthers have done — go cheap and young.
   That's a decision you have to surmise comes from Richardson, who is more concerned about the bigger picture — the long-term financial success of the NFL owners as a whole — than the 2010 season. To be fair, Richardson has never been frugal before. He’s never hesitated in writing big checks. Remember, this is the man who agreed to pay Julius Peppers $17 million as a franchise player.
   But the Panthers have been cheap this year, and there’s a reason for it.
   By not spending any money in free agency, Richardson has made it clear his focus is on something else, which is long term success -- and survival -- of NFL owners.
   A little history lesson is needed.
   Richardson was one of the point men for the last collective bargaining agreement (CBA) earlier this decade, a last-minute agreement in which the players took the owners to the woodshed. He seems determined not to allow the same thing to happen again, if it means locking out the players next year. Richardson is again carrying the flag for the owners in the latest CBA negotiations, so for him to spend big money on player contracts only contradicts his claims that owners are not making enough money.
   So, it would be hypocritical for him to re-sign Peppers to a $92 million contract when he’s trying to plead a case that owners are actually losing money.
   So, that’s why the Panthers have gone cheap.
   They can say they want to play their young draft picks, but the underlying reason for that is because they don't want to spend money this particular year.
   But in so doing, the Panthers have sacrificed the product they’ve put on the field. They essentially threw in the towel on this season before it ever began. Going cheap and going young almost never translates into immediate success. And it’s led to an 0-5 start. And nobody rebounds from an 0-5 start to make the playoffs.
   All of that stinks for Panthers fans, particularly PSL owners.
   It really stinks.
   But it’s the reality of the situation.
   Who knows, this rebuilding process — don’t lie to us anymore Panthers, that’s exactly what it is when you dump older players and turn to younger ones — could pay off down the line. But it won’t pay off this season.
   Fox, meanwhile, is caught the middle of this mess.
   The more losses that pile up the harder it will be for him to land a head coaching job — and by no fault of his own. He has to distance himself from the organization, so when he’s looking for a job next year he can throw up his hands and say, “Hey, it wasn’t my idea to go young!”
   You can blame Fox for a lot of things, but it's hard to pin this miserable season on him. And over the next couple of months you can expect him to remind you of that.