It’s no secret. Carolina Panthers Head Coach John Fox is, if nothing else, embattled. There are fans who have been calling for his job after the team followed a Super Bowl appearance with a 7-9 season in 2004. But, alas, like his Panther teams, the man will not fade quietly into the night. Fox has followed his own advice:
He “never laid down his sword,” he “kept his head down,” and he “kept fighting.” You have to give the guy credit, like him or not, for not listening to the naysayers. He refused to look at this season as a “lame duck” year, despite it being the final year of his contract.
Many experts claim that Fox will have to lead his team to the Playoffs this season, or he will not be offered another contract. If he is going to be the Head Coach in 2011 and beyond, Fox is going to have to finally take some chances.
John Fox and General Manager Marty Hurney agree on quite a bit. They share many of the same basic football philosophies. They often see eye-to-eye on player personnel decisions. Based on some observations of the two men, you could even say they are friends. But they have always had one distinct difference: Marty is a risk-taker, John is not.
Look at the last few drafts. Marty has been wheeling and dealing. He has traded future picks in order to select more players in the current draft. He’s traded down to acquire more late round picks. The man has been up and down the draft board (que image of Hurney with a headband holding a phone to his ear, ala “the eighties blue-tooth”).
Fox, on the other hand, has been the uber-conservative. When you have a veteran-laden roster, a cagey Cajun quarterback with a knack for late dramatics, and a sometimes dominant pass-rush, you have bought yourself the right to be conservative.
When you have one of the youngest teams in the league, a first-year starter at quarterback, and what some think is the worst defensive line in the entire league, well, you have not bought yourself much of anything.
Is it fair that Fox has been stripped of most of his veteran players in favor of less-experienced, less-expensive ones, and then been asked to give Mr Richardson a winner? Well, no, probably not. The old cliche, “turn @#$% into gold” comes to mind. But, perhaps that analysis is a bit over the top.
The reality is, Hurney worked his tail off in Free Agency and in the draft to find Fox some new blood. Yet guys like James Anderson, Dan Connor, Charles Johnson, and Matt Moore sat on the bench in favor of Fox’s trusted veterans. In order to get some of these young players on the field, the vets had to go. Perhaps the mass exodus earlier this year can be equated to ripping off a band-aid…just get if over with all at once.
On the surface, it appears that Fox may have been dealt a bad hand. And that could be the case. But if he can take these young players and make them competitive, consider it the finest piece of coaching he has done while in Carolina. There would then be no reason, money aside, that Fox shouldn’t remain in Charlotte for another contract.
How will he do it? Let’s examine some of the conservative behavior that no longer fits this Panther team:
- The days of John Kasay drop-kicking a fake field-goal attempt, to in essence punt the ball away, are gone.
- The dreaded third-and-long draw play is not going to get it done anymore.
- The days of taking the five-yard delay of game penalty to give Jason Baker more room to punt instead of attempting a 52 yard field goal have fallen by the wayside.
- Sending the field goal team on for every fourth-and-inches in the red-zone may no longer be the smart play.
- Hiding your quarterback behind your otherwise strong team is no longer an afforded luxury (and it may not be necessary any more, minus Jake Delhomme).
- Avoiding the short and intermediate passing game in favor of a low percentage deep-attack where an interception is more of a punt, is not going to produce enough first downs for this young, run-first offense to flourish.
The 2010 Panther team will have to grow up in a hurry. There will not be much room for error. Anymore significant injuries could be crippling. But above all, if John Fox decides that his young team needs to be protected, or that parts of it should be hidden, we are in for a long season. And Fox might find himself with the short straw come February.