The report from The Charlotte Observer about the Panthers wanting coach John Fox to stay for the remaining year on his contract is not surprising, but it’s also not a true resolution to the lingering uncertainty about the future of the organization.
It jives with what I have been hearing, with ownership enthused about the club’s strong finish despite having nothing to play for and a rash of injuries. Carolina is mauling people at the line of scrimmage again, young quarterback Matt Moore has given the team life. They dealt major setbacks to the Vikings and Giants in blowout wins the last two weeks, and could easily be on a four-game winning streak if not for a tough loss to the Patriots.
But the idea of someone who has had as much success as Fox — 70-57 lifetime record, a Super Bowl appearance, a division title as recently as 2008, never fewer than seven wins in eight years there and three seasons of 11 wins or more — coaching out a lame-duck season isn’t going to be particularly attractive to him, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. The Panthers have been unwilling to speak to him about an extension at all to this point, and though the sides are slated to talk at the end of the season, Carolina has given no indication its stance will change.
That puts Fox in a predicament, and I would not be surprised if his representation tries to find a way to reach a settlement that allows Fox to become a free agent of sorts. Simply quitting, and walking away from roughly $6 million in 2009, and being unable to coach elsewhere in the NFL, would be a lot to walk away from. But coaching out a lame-duck year without a mandate or pulpit to forge a team and lead men is far from ideal as well.
I fully expect Fox’s people to broach that possibility. Contractually, the Panthers aren’t obligated to do anything, but a lame-duck year could end up shortsighted and not conducive to winning as well. It is not unprecedented for a coach to extricate himself from such a situation.
The Panthers have long been linked with former Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Cowher, given the fact he resides in the area. And, as I have been reporting for months, Cowher is looking to get back into coaching and has eyed four teams in particular (Carolina, Houston, Chicago and Tampa Bay). But, several league sources believe the Panthers might not be in the position to spend the kind of money it would take to land Cowher, and bringing in Cowher would also lead to substantial changes to the coaching and personnel staff, and thus ownership eating several other contracts as well as taking on new ones.
So stay tuned, this situation could get interesting in the weeks to come. The knock on Fox is that he’s never put two strong seasons together, which is true, but his teams have also always been competitive and if he were on the market you would have to think Cleveland and Buffalo would be among potential suitors.