GM Marty Hurney, owner Jerry Richardson and team president Danny Morrison spoke at a press conference on Tuesday. (AP Photo)
CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers are strongly leaning toward hiring an assistant coach from another NFL team to be their next head coach, general manager Marty Hurney said Tuesday at a news conference.
That would be consistent with what the Panthers did in 2002 when they hired John Fox, then the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants.
“We have historically, the last time we went through this, we went through the assistant ranks,” Hurney said. “We got somebody that fit our organization. I think that's very important, to find somebody that fits the philosophies of this organization and how we do things as well as the qualities of a head coach.”
When asked if that precludes the Panthers from going after a college coach Hurney said, “I think when you go into the process you try to keep an open mind and you don't cross anything (off). Again, the last time that we did this we went the assistant coach route and I think that it worked well. We went from 1-15 and we were in the Super Bowl in two years.”
Owner Jerry Richardson, speaking to the media for the first time in almost three years and at is his first news conference setting in nine years, called a published report that he or Hurney had been in contact with Stanford's Jim Harbaugh for weeks completely false.
When asked if the team has an interest in Harbaugh specifically, owner Jerry Richardson said, "I'm sure it's a nice man, I'd be happy to talk to him. I have not thought about talking to him as a head coach.... But I would be nice and cordial to him if I saw him."
The team will not go after big-name coaches like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden, although that was widely known before the process began.
The Panthers on Monday asked for permission to speak with San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, but Hurney wouldn’t discuss who else the team hopes to talk with. The Panthers are expected to interview at least a handful of candidates before hiring a coach and more names are sure to surface in the next couple of days.
While he wouldn’t talk specifics, Hurney said the Panthers do know what they want in their next coach.
“We want a coach to manage his coaches, to motivate players, discipline players it's a fine line, I think, to be a coach in this league,” Hurney said. “You have to have the ability to discipline players and be hard on them when you have to be hard on them and you also have to encourage them and they have to want to play for you. I think I've learned a lot in my 22 years in the league on what it takes to be a successful head coach in this league.
“I think we have a good feel of what those qualities are and what we're looking for as the Carolina Panthers. So we just go through the process. I don't think there will be any timetable to it but I think it will be done expeditiously.”
When asked if he’ll wait to assistant coaches still in the playoff hunt, Hurney responded, “That’s part of the process. You’ve heard me say it’s a fluid process, and you have to keep our options open as you go through it. (President) Danny (Morrison) and I will be as thorough as we can be, and Mr. Richardson will be involved with the decision and we’ll go from there.”
Richardson also made it clear he plans to hire a coach who'll carry out the organization’s wishes, not the coach’s personal agenda.
“I would hope that we would have a head coach that is compatible to the organization,” Richardson said. “And when I say the organization, the first three times we hired a head coach, we talked about what the head coach wanted. We were not specific enough about what we wanted. This time I think we'll be more specific.”
That means both on and off the field.
The Panthers want a coach who will interact more with fans, be willing to do commercials and that sort of thing, and not complain about it. And the other part is about finding a coach who'll follow the team’s blueprint, which is building through the draft and sticking with developing and playing younger players.
That’s something Fox has been reluctant to do.
This past offseason the Panthers chose to cut several veteran players and not replace them, instead fielding a younger team made up primarily of players they had drafted in recent years.
That went against the grain for Fox, who prefers veteran players.
Fox took a few veiled shots at management during the season for operating under a "budget," making it clear he didn't agree with all of the personnel decisions made this past offseason.
“Young players, the best way that they are going to get better is to play. If you have veteran players here, we have a history of a coaching staff that was going to play the veteran players,” Richardson said. “In my simple brain, the best way I could have assured the young players were to get to play is that they would have to play. I think they did very well.”
In the end, Richardson’s decision not to give Fox a contract extension after the 2008 and 2009 seasons was based on his inability to put together a consistent winner in Carolina.
“The facts are in nine years we had three winning seasons and we failed to reach the playoffs in back-to-back years,” Richardson said. “… Back-to-back winning seasons are important and I think you could conclude that had a lot to do with it.”
Richardson said he didn’t fire Fox after an 8-8 season in 2009 – and allowed him to go into the final year of his contract without a new deal -- because of the financial investment he made in Fox and his staff.
He said firing him might have been an option, but he said that would have entailed spending $11,441,000 on a staff that wasn’t around, which he claims was the fifth-highest in the league.
On top of that he would have had to pay a new coaching staff.
“I would ask you the question," Richardson said to a reporter. "If you were writing the check would you extend someone’s contract you were not sure was going to be able to produce the result you were looking for?"
When the reporter responded with a no, Richardson added, "I didn't either."