Bill Cowher Vs. John Fox: Weighing in on Carolina’s Coaching Debate


Right now there is a realistic chance that John Fox will not be the head coach of the Carolina Panthers in 2010.

If you’re surprised, then don’t be. Decisions made in the NFL can change overnight; just as easily within the hour. A rule of thumb is to never hold too much stock in what you hear or read, until you see or hear proof-positive information.

So before we make up our minds that Fox will return in 2010, we should weigh the pros and cons of his biggest potential replacement, Bill Cowher.

Cowher has been a TV analyst for the past couple of years, and his name has been mentioned in many circles as the next coach of the Panthers.

Cowher is a motivator and a leader. He asks his players to give everything they have. He also holds players accountable for their actions both on and off the field. He is also a stable coach. You know what to expect from Cowher and a Cowher-coached football team.

Cowher’s resume includes a Super Bowl win with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was the head coach for almost two decades.

Why would the Panthers be a good fit for Cowher? Well, there are many factors. One factor I will rule out is the proximity of where he resides in North Carolina (approximately three hours from Charlotte), although that is a legitimate and arguably a good reason.

For one, there are many ties to Wofford College, both within the Panthers and the college, but also with Bill Cowher. Coincidentally (or not–not that it really matters), Cowher’s daughters are students at Wofford College.

Panthers’ team president Danny Morrison was formerly the president at Wofford.

Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson, attended and played football for Wofford.

Carolina also holds it’s training camp at Wofford.

Another reason the Panthers would be a good fit for Cowher, is Jerry Richardson, much like Steelers owner Art Rooney, will let Cowher do his job with very little (if any) interference. Added to that, Richardson won’t expect immediate results, as he knows that with a change of head coach, it will take time to get back to a winning state.

The Panthers front office is one of stability and one that doesn’t react on emotion, but rather it allows it’s personnel every opportunity to succeed, until said personnel’s opportunities have been exhausted.

The reason Cowher is an unrealistic option is due to his asking price. Now the only reason I can figure as to why Cowher might have his asking price set so high ($10 million a year), would be that he’s holding out for the Panthers future vacancy. By keeping his price so high, it gives him more of a reason to reject other teams’ offers.

This year, the defense made good progress throughout the season and learning defensive coordinator Ron Meeks’ system.

The Panthers defense was a turnover machine in the late stretch of the season, and I can’t recall seeing a defense playing so competitively since 2003, when Carolina went to Super Bowl XXXVIII.

What I fear with Bill Cowher is Ron Meeks will be let go. Regardless of Meeks’ contract status, Cowher will be given control over who he wants to bring in. If the Panthers are paying a head coach $10 million a year, you can bet your last dollar that they are going to make sure he gets the personnel he needs to make that salary worth it.

It’s a game of results.

As for Carolina’s running back tandem, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them put on the trade block to try and get back a first-round draft pick , and a subsequent compensatory pick.

This is a pair of running backs that I would absolutely hate to see get separated, because of the chemistry and relationship they have forged. It would be one thing to say that and have a 1,000+ yard runner and a 500-600-yard runner who happen to get along with each other. But these two are something more special than that. I say you have to keep them together until one or the other’s contract is up and the team is forced to make a decision as to who to keep and release.

Having two 1,100-yard runners in a season on the same team, has never happened in the history of the NFL.

Beyond that, I don’t have very many concerns over Cowher. I wouldn’t expect immediate results, because with a new coach comes a new playbook. It takes time for players to adjust to that, and finding the right personnel that can execute the plays in the playbook takes time as well.

Under Cowher, I believe there would be a two-year turnaround before this team finds it’s footing and is back in the playoff race.

The reason I wouldn’t like Cowher as the head coach of the Panthers isn’t because I question his ability as a head coach. There is no doubt in my mind that he could make this team a perennial playoff contender. I just don’t believe that Fox’s tank is empty in Carolina.

Which brings me to why I prefer to hang onto John Fox for a little while longer.

There are still some better years ahead of the Panthers with John Fox as their head coach.

I do contest some of Fox’s playcalls and some decisions here and there, but he is an overall solid and respectable head coach.

Sure, some seasons haven’t panned out like we’d hoped, but this season showed more life towards the end, and what a change at quarterback could have done for this team, had it been executed sooner.

I understand Fox’s decision to stick with his man Jake Delhomme at quarterback, but I don’t agree with it. This is a league based on results. When the person you have appointed to make smart decisions and perform well doesn’t, then he needs to be re-evaluated while he’s on the bench.

When the leader–in this case, Fox–stays the course and states that this man gives the team it’s best chance to win, then I can understand the emotional impact it has created on the fans.

Hindsight as they say, is 20/20.

As I mentioned earlier, the defense has come a long way in just one season. While they’re not peaking yet, they make progress every day and every week. I absolutely loved the hiring of Ron Meeks as defensive coordinator.

Meeks’ defensive style gives the Panthers an edge they have been lacking for about three years. Anyone who questions Meeks’ ability as a defensive coordinator, has to realize that he had undersized defenders playing under him in Indianapolis. He made the best with what he had.

If Fox stays in Carolina, so does Meeks. This defense has come too far to tear it down and start anew.

I wasn’t a big fan of Jeff Davidson early on this year, but it seems that the offense has picked itself up as well. I’m not going to try and find a reason as to why, I will simply give credit to Jeff Davidson.

Having Matt Moore in at quarterback was big too. Because of his young age, being in a contract year, and wanting to be a starter somewhere–preferrably Carolina–Moore stepped up in a big way. So now the burning question will be who wins that job in the fall?

Finally, the years with Fox as head coach haven’t all been bad. There’s no guarantee that with Cowher the years will always be good, either.

With John Fox as the head coach, the Panthers are set to save $3.5 million this year (Fox’s salary is $6.5 million compared to Cowher’s projected $10 million). There is also a very good chance that the Panthers make it into the playoffs, barring significant injury at key positions or other poor personnel decisions.

With Cowher, there is no guarantee of a playoff run in 2010–or 2011, for that matter.

The best way to sum this debate up in a nautical term would be, “steady, maintain the course.” There is no perfect coaching candidate. There is no sure-fire resolution to cure what ails the Panthers.

In football, much like life, there will be rough seas. But John Fox and Bill Cowher share very similar personalities. Fox will safely guide his ship through storms and turbulent waters, and when the seas are calm, no matter who is at the wheel, the sailing will always be smooth.