Fox Comments: A House Divided

A house divided against itself cannot stand. – Abraham Lincoln

No truer words were ever spoken.
Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox watches as his team loses to the New Orleans Saints 34-3 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina on November 7, 2010. UPI/Nell Redmond . Photo via Newscom What we’re seeing in Charlotte is evidence of a house that is truly divided.  Witness the comments made Sunday by John Fox in his post-game press conference following his team’s 34-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

“I’m not going to get into all of that,” Fox said when asked about his role in the decision making. “You can ask the personnel people.”

Unfortunately, the current Panthers head coach was just getting started.

“It would be fairly obvious that it would be Matt,” Fox said. “He can operate our offense the best of the quarterbacks, unless we decide to go with the wishbone or some kind of option offense.”

If you think there has to be a residual effect on the team with this sentiment you would be right.

In the locker room, wide receiver Steve Smith became the first player to question the team’s decision to go cheap this past spring and part ways with veteran players while not bringing in proven quality replacements. “It’s coming back to haunt us,” Smith said of the personnel decisions. “It’s like dragging a piano with one arm and one leg – we’re getting nowhere fast.” (Carolina Growl)

The undeniable truth is that this team is not very good.  At 1-7 and flailing around as a group as if they aren’t sure what to do next, the evidence is piling up.  A 34-3 dismantling to a team the Panthers normally play tough is pretty damning. How did the Carolina Panthers, that normally well-respected and first-class organization, get here?  And who are the key players involved?  Finally, who is to blame? Bill Voth of WSOC told me last week that he learned of a youth movement (aka a cheap movement) last winter.  What followed was a purge of older players.  Anyone over 30 years old was a target.  If large amounts of cash were coming your way anytime before 2011, you were a target. Exit Jake Delhomme, Ma’ake Mekmoeatu, Damione Lewis, Brad Hoover, Na’il Diggs, Julius Peppers, Muhsin Muhammad, Chris Harris, et al.  In one off season, the Panthers went from a veteran (read aging) team to employing the youngest roster in the NFL. The owners had opted out of the collective bargaining agreement meaning there would be no salary cap allowing owners to not only spend as much but also as little as they wanted on player salaries. Further, the lack of a new CBA, set to expire in March 2011, brought the 2011 season into question.  The owners wanted to play hard ball with the union, to crush them thanks to a contract signed years ago in which the owners felt as if they had been cheated out of money.  A lockout was looming. Loyalties were about to be tested. This brings us to the cast of characters involved in the tragedy we are witnessing on and off the field in Charlotte.

Jerry Richardson

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 10: Owner Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers stands on the field during warm ups prior to the Panthers game against the Chicago Bears at Bank of America Stadium on October 10, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)

Since the day that Paul Tagliabue announced that the expansion committee has unanimously chosen the Carolina Panthers as the next entrant into the NFL, Jerry Richardson has been widely regarded as a league-friendly owner.  He was a team player.

His popularity with the players was evident due to his background as a former player with the Colts.  Any former Panther is quick to tell you that they love the man, that he is more than an employer or a signature on a paycheck.  He’s a father figure.

With a negotiation breaking down, and his fellow owners needing leadership, it was Richardson making the impassioned speech telling them they must not waver.  They must remain unified.

Not only did this hint at collusion it also quickly turned The Big Cat’s focus from his franchise and its fans to the league.  Prepare for a lockout, save as much money as possible during 2010 and damn the torpedoes.

More on Richardson later.

Marty Hurney

CHARLOTTE, NC - 2008: Marty Hurney of the Carolina Panthers poses for his 2008 NFL headshot at photo day in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Getty Images)

Since his arrival in Carolina, Hurney has been respected by the organization.  His relationship with John Fox had been outstanding.  Something happened. Hurney has also shown a tremendous ability to remain loyal to Richardson regardless of what his marching orders were. Personnel decisions had previously been made jointly with Fox.  During the dead of winter and early spring of 2010 were the decisions made to jettison players and go young his and Fox’s?  Listening to Fox speak it’s hard to fathom that being the case.



John Fox

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 26: Head coach John Fox of the Carolina Panthers watches on in the rain against the Cincinnati Bengals during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 26, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Widespread speculation is that upon his firing in Carolina, Fox will quickly find new employment in the NFL.  Though keep in mind that he doesn’t have to officially be fired.  His contract is up following this season.  The team can simply deny a contract extension.

Reports indicate that Fox asked for a sizable pay raise and was rejected by Richardson years ago.  Did Fox deserve to be paid commensurate with the Belichick’s and Fisher’s of the league?  Not really.

Further, eying his own future, he has to be considering his efforts to distance himself from the train wreck occurring weekly on the field to be worthwhile.  He will be a free agent after all.  Instead he comes off like a preteen denying involvement when confronted by his parents.

Who’s to blame?  Let’s just say all of the above.  But there is another part to this story that has to be addressed.

The Fans

For far too long, Panthers fans have been painted with a broad brush as wine-drinking, cheese-nibbling elitists.  The cogs in the biggest industry in Charlotte – banking.

However, through all of the losing, there have been five sellouts in Bank of America Stadium this season.  This would have to be a sign of a more dedicated and passionate fan base even if there are large portions of the stadium left empty due to no-shows on game day.

In all of this, it’s the fans who are feeling the pinch.  An inferior product was about to be fielded yet the organization saw fit to raise ticket prices.  That’s not to mention the loyalty with which Panthers Nation was still buying up jerseys, hats and concessions at the game.

Do the fans share the blame in all of this?  And should Jerry Richardson speak to the media to explain what he is attempting to accomplish?  I held a spirited debate with Darin Gantt over this very topic.

Consider yourself as a fan to be a shareholder in the Carolina Panthers.  With your wallet you are sending a message to Jerry Richardson that you approve of what the team is doing and how the organization is being operated.

While The Big Cat is concerned with the league, as well he should be, we should all be sending him a unified message that he should also be concerned about us.

It’s not about winning and losing.  Every team, every organization, every coach and every fan will experience losing records.  It’s that we’ve operated as if we are about to go under like we’re on the verge of bankruptcy that should anger the fans.

There is a gulf fixed between Richardson’s understanding and the other or real truth.  He thinks the league is more important.  Instead it’s the fans that are more important.

True, Jerry has it right when he feels that he is indebted to the league for what he has.  They granted the franchise to him.  They share revenue with him despite the fact that his team plays in one of the smallest television markets in the country.

It’s what Jerry has wrong that’s troubling.  Consider the league for a minute.  Where does the league’s revenue come from?  How are the owners able to operate franchises capable of sharing revenue?

Simple.  It’s the fans.

Jerry owes the fans an explanation.  He needs to speak up and tell us what he’s doing and that he’s not turned his back on us in order to serve the collective good of his millionaire and billionaire friends.

Let’s be clear.  As fans, we don’t give a damn about Jerry Jones or Daniel Snyder.  We could care less about Roger Goodell or anyone in the league office.  What we want is an organization that is run in a first-class manner.  We also want to know that the owner hasn’t thrown in the towel on the season in order to bankroll more money because of the CBA.

Besides, Jerry, the CBA you and the other owners opted out of is no different than a contract signed by a player.  You know the guy – signed for 5 years and 2 years in wants to renegotiate.  So now we, as fans, have to pay the price because you and 31 other millionaire/billionaire owners signed a bum contract?  Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

Jerry didn’t owe John Fox an explanation if he chose not to give him one.   He’s the boss.  Marty Hurney owed nothing in the way of a reason for what he was up to because he was answering directly to the owner.  John Fox answers to his boss so he honestly owes nothing to the media other than his usual cliches.

The problem is that there is a disconnect.  All parties involved are doing their own thing.  They are all at fault.

This house is divided.  Only Jerry Richardson can put it back together.

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Tags: Bank Of America Stadium Bill Voth Carolina Panthers CBA Daniel Snyder Darin Gantt Jerry Jones Jerry Richardson John Fox Marty Hurney New Orleans Saints Paul Tagliabue Roger Goodell

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