NFC South: Mark Richardson

Remembering Jon Richardson

July, 16, 2013
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Some very sad news out of Charlotte this afternoon. Jon Richardson, the son of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, has passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 53.

I have very fond memories of Jon Richardson from my days covering the Panthers for The Charlotte Observer. Back in those days, Richardson and his brother, Mark, served as presidents for the Panthers. Jon was in charge of the stadium, while Mark oversaw the business and football sides.

Much like his father, Jon Richardson was a man of the people. He didn’t flaunt his wealth or status and was well respected by the team’s employees. I had nothing but positive dealings with Jon Richardson on a professional level, but it went beyond that.

Back in my Observer days, Friday afternoons usually were quiet. I’d go to practice, get the update on the injury report and head to the Dowd YMCA for a workout. Apparently, Fridays also were slow for guys that run NFL stadiums because I used to bump into Jon at the gym.

I can’t remember exactly how it started, but we shed our roles as reporter and stadium president. We started playing HORSE on the basketball court and, if other people were around, we’d play games of two-on-two or three-on-three.

The games stopped for a while when Jon first became ill. But he made a recovery and we started playing again. We had common ground because, around that same time, my sister was successfully battling leukemia.

Football was never part of the conversation on those Fridays. Instead, we talked basketball or about Jon’s health or my sister’s.

I didn’t have any contact with Jon after he and Mark resigned in 2009 (reportedly, a move encouraged by their father because the brothers couldn’t get along).

But I’ll always have the memories of Friday afternoons on the basketball court. And I’ll always remember how Jon carried himself with no airs or pretenses.

I’ll always remember that Jon Richardson was just a regular guy.
Jerry RichardsonAP Photo/Margaret BowlesPanthers owner Jerry Richardson has a franchise at a crossroads.

Jerry Richardson wanted to talk, but he didn’t want to do it standing in a hotel lobby.

Instead, he invited a reporter up to his room because his plan was to take a nap as soon as the conversation ended. Richardson looked tired and worn out and pretty much admitted that he was.

This was at an NFL owners meeting in New Orleans during the labor lockout of 2011. At the time, Richardson was the point man for the owners in their negotiations with the players. He was taking a lot of heat from players and it got even hotter when there were reports that he made condescending comments to Peyton Manning at the negotiating table.

The talks dragged on for months, and some thought there was at least the appearance that Richardson got pushed aside by other owners in the end.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesCam Newton, like many Panthers, is having a lackluster 2012 season.
Throw in the fact Richardson is 76 and had a heart transplant in 2008, and it’s easy to see why he looked worn down.

The Richardson I knew during my days as the beat writer for The Charlotte Observer (and even before that) was a vigorous man, constantly filled with energy or maybe caffeine from the iced tea he drinks by the gallon.

Richardson has looked a little better the last few times I saw him, but he needs to find a way to grab back some of his youth and energy right now because his Carolina Panthers and his legacy are at a crossroads. The decisions Richardson makes over the next few months might be the most critical in franchise history, and they’re also going to write his lasting legacy.

All the things Richardson did in the past don’t really matter right now. It doesn’t matter he’s the one who brought an expansion team to the Carolinas. Or that the Panthers were in the NFC Championship Game in only their second season and the Super Bowl in the 2003 season.

It doesn’t matter that Richardson used to be viewed as the model owner by fans. He often drove a Jeep around stadium parking lots on game days, picking up fans he didn’t know and driving them into the stadium while chatting. If a fan wrote him a letter, Richardson answered it or called the fan directly. He was a man of the people, and he was beloved. Oh, plus his teams were either winning or at least competitive, so that helped his popularity.

These days, things have changed dramatically. My mailbag and our Friday NFC South chats are filled with criticism of Richardson and panic about the Panthers. I hear the same from my friends who live in Charlotte, and those who were at Sunday’s home loss to Dallas said the atmosphere was just as bad as it was at coach George Seifert’s final game in the 2001 season -- the 15th straight game the Panthers lost. They said the fans who did bother to show up weren't so much angry as they were uninterested.

Sunday was general manager Marty Hurney’s last game. The Panthers, a trendy playoff pick in the preseason, are 1-5. The handwriting on the wall for coach Ron Rivera doesn’t look promising, and a lot of players are sure to be gone after the season.

You can see a housecleaning coming in Carolina. Does Richardson have the energy and strength to do it? I know the man, and I know he has a passionate desire to win. I’m pretty confident he can scrape up enough strength to do what has to be done.

But Richardson needs to do more than just find a new general manager, probably a new coach and a dozen or two new players. He needs to get the right general manager, the right coach and the right players.

Things are really bad with the Panthers right now. They haven’t had a winning season since 2008. The Panthers have had a great fan base since they came into existence (they’ve been all that matters on the Charlotte sports scene), but if things don’t change soon, they’re going to lose it.

Once upon a time, Richardson had a strong and close support group that he could lean on to make decisions like this, but that has eroded gradually. He fired son Mark as team president and son Jon as stadium president because he felt their dysfunctional relationship and differing management styles were having a negative impact on every other employee in the building.

Hurney already was a confidant, but he became even more of one when the Richardson sons left. Now, Hurney’s gone and Rivera may well be on his way out.

Richardson’s inner power circle is down to his wife, daughter, team president Danny Morrison, some buddies from the business world and a few other NFL owners whom he’s close to. But I doubt his wife, Rosalind, and daughter, Ashley, or the friends from the business world are going to be too involved in hiring a general manager and maybe a coach. Richardson may make some calls to other owners to ask about candidates, but those guys are also the competition.

Morrison is Richardson’s most trusted ally right now. I’m sure Morrison will be involved in whatever happens going forward. But Morrison shouldn’t be the guy making the football decisions. He’s an administrator and runs the business side of the operation.

Richardson is expected to bring in a consultant, and it’s likely to be a former NFL general manager. We don’t know who it is yet, so I’ll throw out some names, just so you can get a picture of who might fit the profile: Carl Peterson, Ernie Accorsi, Jerry Angelo or Michael Lombardi, just to name a few possibilities. Although I think it’s safe to say Bill Polian, who left the Panthers on less-than-friendly terms in 1997, probably is not a candidate.

Whoever it is will evaluate the current roster and coaching staff, evaluate how the scouting department is structured and gather up a list of potential candidates for general manager and maybe for head coach, and then present recommendations to Richardson.

The consultant will do most of the legwork. But Richardson’s the one who has to do the heavy lifting. Ultimately, Richardson will be the only one making the decision on how this team is going to move forward.

Richardson has made some good hires in the past (Hurney, Dom Capers and John Fox all had success for varying amounts of time) and some bad ones (Seifert).

But this time around might be more important than all the others combined. Richardson has to gather up his strength and search his soul. He’s a man of great pride, and his legacy is on the line.

If he can make all the right moves and the Panthers start winning the next few seasons, his legacy will be golden. If the losing doesn’t stop, all Richardson has worked and stood for all these years will be forgotten.

Jerry Richardson's last stand?

July, 21, 2011
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As owners and players appear to be closing in on a new labor agreement, I can’t help but wonder if this is the last stand for Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.

He was designated by commissioner Roger Goodell a long time ago as the point man for owners in negotiations that have been tumultuous. Richardson’s been accused of trying to break the players’ union, taking a condescending tone toward players and may have been pushed aside by some more moderate owners in the late stages of the negotiations.

[+] EnlargeJerry Richardson
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesOnce a new labor deal is reached, Jerry Richardson may become less involved in league activites.
But, if a deal gets done, it would give Richardson a legacy. The new deal could guarantee labor peace for 10 years. You can bet that Richardson won’t be on the point the next time around.

Richardson is 75 and I’ve got a hunch that once this deal is done, the only former player who is the majority owner of a team is going to take a step back. Ever since the Panthers entered the league in 1995, Goodell and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue have leaned very heavily on Richardson.

They’ve put him in charge of the stadium committee. They used Richardson as the point man in the previous labor deal, which owners later opted out of. They’ve also put Richardson on a bunch of other committees through the years because he’s one of the most respected owners in the league.

Richardson long has believed the NFL is more important than his franchise. That’s why the league logo -- not the team logo -- takes up the prime real estate at Bank of America Stadium. But Richardson has done more than enough for the league.

I’m not saying Richardson is going to flat-out retire. I’m not sure he has it in him to ever fully walk away from the league and the Panthers. But I think you’re going to see him take a step back from league responsibilities and he’ll resist any offers to join new committees.

Richardson’s had some health issues. He had a heart transplant in 2009 and fired his sons, Mark and Jon, as team presidents soon after he returned to full duty. I think Richardson will remain active in running his own franchise, but he won’t be quite as hands-on as he once was. Richardson likely will focus on big-picture decisions, but rely on his new power structure to handle day-to-day operations.

Richardson brought in Danny Morrison as team president. His job is to handle business matters and he gradually has been taking on a bigger role. General manager Marty Hurney handles football operations.

Richardson trusts both men completely. The Panthers still are Richardson’s team, but look for him to step back a bit and let Hurney and Morrison run the franchise. Look for Richardson to let Goodell and other owners handle league matters going forward.

Hitting the NFC South hot spots

December, 30, 2010
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I just jumped into the mailbag for the first time in several days due to the fact I was a bit tied up covering the Monday Night Football game between the Saints and Falcons, flying back home and taking care of some other assignments. But the mailbag was overflowing, mostly from the Atlanta and New Orleans precincts, but I also included questions on Carolina and Tampa Bay. So let's look at what's on the minds of fans around the NFC South.

Numerous New Orleans fans wrote to ask why I’m making such a “big deal’’ out of some Saints posing for pictures on the Falcons logo after Monday night’s game.

Pat Yasinskas: It’s part of my job description. Perhaps New Orleans fans have been a bit spoiled because just about every word written about the Saints over the past year has been justifiably glowing. This was an incident that angered a lot of people outside of New Orleans, and it had to be mentioned because it is a big deal in Atlanta and other places. I don’t think I really ripped the Saints -- although I did say what they did might not have been a great idea -- nearly as much as some other media members. I’ve had several follow-up items because the Saints and Falcons continue to talk about it.


Numerous Atlanta fans wrote to ask why I didn’t use a certain vulgar quote that was used by a New Orleans player to describe what the Saints were doing.

Pat Yasinskas: I wasn’t there to hear Remi Ayodele’s quote, so I couldn’t use it. But, if I had tried, I don’t think our editors would have run it. We have some pretty strict rules on that sort of thing. In fairness to Ayodele, I believe he was talking only in a figurative sense.


Numerous New Orleans fans said I gave Roddy White a pass on his Twitter comments.

Pat Yasinskas: Final word, for now, on this shouting match between the Saints and Falcons fans, although I'm sure it will continue in the comments section. Look at Wednesday’s NFC South Stock Watch. In the first two items, I was critical of the Saints and White. Both teams were at fault and that’s been pointed out. This spat isn’t about me. It’s about the Saints and Falcons. They were going back and forth before the game and they’re still doing it. That is part of the beauty of a rivalry. And, hey, it’s not a stretch to think New Orleans and Atlanta will meet again in the playoffs, so all this stuff could come up again.


Harris in Weaverville, N.C., writes: Do you have any insight on how Carolina’s process for looking for a new coach will go and how long that process might take.

Pat Yasinskas: As I’ve written several times, general manager Marty Hurney will stay with the team as coach John Fox leaves. Hurney will join with team president Danny Morrison to spearhead the search. That’s kind of the same approach the Panthers took in 2002 when they hired Fox. At that time, Hurney and former team president Mark Richardson led the search and owner Jerry Richardson had the final say. It will be the same thing this time, except Morrison will take over the Mark Richardson role. Jerry Richardson is more tied up in the league’s labor situation than most people realize. He’ll let Hurney and Morrison do the groundwork and he’ll get involved when the list is narrowed down. Knowing how Hurney operates, I’d expect this to be a very methodical search with the Panthers looking at several candidates and perhaps bringing several back for a second round of interviews. I still suspect the winner will be someone that hasn’t been a head coach in the NFL before and probably will be a current NFL assistant. But the Panthers aren’t closing any doors and it’s possible they will at least look at a college coach or two. As far as a time frame, my best guess is it will take a couple of weeks. When Fox was hired, the process took about three weeks.


Victor in Texas writes: Will Tampa Bay’s success this year translate into some prime-time television games next season.

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, I expect that will happen. The Bucs are a team on the rise and they’ve got some potential big names in Josh Freeman, Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount. That gives them a bit of star power, but I don’t think you’ll see more than one or two prime-time games next season. For the Bucs to get four or five prime-time games, they need to continue winning, Freeman, Williams and Blount need to continue building their star power, and it wouldn’t hurt if Raymond James Stadium starts selling out again. I don’t think the NFL wants to show many prime-time games with a half-empty stadium in the background.
As John Fox is about to coach his last game in Bank of America Stadium as coach of the Carolina Panthers, a lot of fans are wondering who will replace Fox.

We’ve touched on it from time to time and thrown out names like Russ Grimm, the Arizona assistant coach, who, ironically will be on the opposing sideline today. Grimm’s a logical target. He might end up with the job, but he’s not going to be the only guy who gets a look.

Joseph Person takes a good look at Carolina’s history when hiring coaches and lays out some philosophies that might factor into this decision. I’ll add a little more now. The Panthers have a decent history of hiring rising defensive coordinators, and that remains a possibility.

But don’t rule out the possibility of the Panthers going on the offensive after nine years of Fox’s conservative offense. Although Grimm is an offensive coach, his background suggests he would favor more of a grind-it-out approach. That might not be exactly what the Panthers are looking for and someone like New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer could offer a little more spice. Or the Panthers could look to someone with a proven track record in developing young quarterbacks, such as Atlanta coordinator Mike Mularkey, to build around possible No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck or this year's rookie Jimmy Clausen.

Forget the big names: Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden. Carolina owner Jerry Richardson wouldn’t pay big money to keep Fox and he made a disastrous move back in 1999 when he hired George Seifert. At the time, Seifert was the equivalent of a Gruden or a Cowher. He was a huge name and he’d been out of the league for a bit.

The Panthers paid Seifert a ton of money. He might have been a good Xs and Os coach, but he definitely wasn’t a builder. Richardson’s not going to pay huge money to a coach this time around either, and that’s why I think a rising NFL coordinator will be the choice. Besides, there aren't any real strong indications that Cowher or Gruden have interest in the Carolina job.

But I’m not ruling out the possibility of a college coach. General manager Marty Hurney is going to stay and he’s going to lead the coaching search. But team president Danny Morrison is going to be his partner in this one, just like former team president Mark Richardson (the owner’s son) was back when Fox was hired in 2002. Richardson will have ultimate say in the hiring. But he's got his hands more full with the league's labor negotiations than anyone realizes and will rely on Hurney and Morrison to put solid candidates in front of him.

Don’t overlook the Morrison factor, and that’s a large part of the reason I’m not ruling out a college coach, although it's not the leading scenario. Morrsions's background was as a college administrator. As the main guy in the team’s business operation, Morrison’s also looking for a certain type of personality.

Although a Cowher or Gruden might generate an initial burst of interest for the fan base, Morrison and Hurney won’t be looking necessarily for a guy whose name will sell tickets in the long term. The coaching part is very important, but they also are going to be looking for someone with some personality and energy. They want a guy who will be active and involved with the fan base. They want someone the fans will embrace over the long term, even if there is some initial disappointment about not getting a big name.

One other thing to keep in mind here. This is not a situation where the Panthers already have a certain coach firmly in mind. Sure, they’ve got some guys on their radar already, but Morrison and Hurney are going to do a lengthy search. They’re going to take their time with this process.

When Seifert was fired, it was about three weeks before Fox was hired and second interviews were involved. I’d expect a similar time frame and process this time around.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The person that’s stood out to me most as I’ve spent the last 30 or so hours with the Carolina Panthers isn’t any player or coach.

It’s actually been Danny Morrison, who is beginning his first full season as the team’s president. Morrison, who once was the athletic director at Wofford College, has been pretty much a non-stop force on that same campus since I’ve been here. I’ve seen him out on the practice field and chatted with him repeatedly. He’s constantly chatting with everyone from media to team employees to fans.

As we speak, the Panthers are showing the movie “Radio’’ out on the hill overlooking the field where they just finished practicing. The two men who the movie was based on are in attendance and were mingling with fans during practice. This is a Morrison production and something new for the Panthers.

By no means am I suggesting the Panthers weren’t a fan-friendly organization before. They’ve always been good in that area. But they’re doing that more than ever and you can trace the new energy straight to Morrison.

He’s the guy who was thrown into a tough spot when owner Jerry Richardson made the sudden and stunning decision to fire his two sons, Mark and Jon, just about a year ago. I know that wasn’t a decision that came lightly for a father, but there was major conflict between the Richardson brothers that had a trickle-down impact on the rest of the organization. The father recognized that and, after pulling the plug, turned to a guy who had spent his adult life working in college athletics to take over an NFL team.

The Richardson brothers weren’t bad guys. I knew them both fairly well. Mark, who handled the business side, wasn’t exactly a social butterfly, but he was always fair and cordial to me. Jon, who handled the stadium operations, was more of a man of the people. We worked out at the same gym in Charlotte and it wasn’t unusual for him to appear on the basketball court and ask if I wanted to play a game of HORSE. For the record, the games were always close.

But the Richardson brothers weren’t real close and that created a tense atmosphere within the walls of Bank of America Stadium. Although they remain part of the ownership group, they’re otherwise out of the picture and out of team operations.

When there’s conflict, change can be good and things are definitely changing with Morrison.

NFC South Team Wrap-ups

January, 6, 2010
1/06/10
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South
Clayton: Video | AFC grades ... NFC More: Fantasy MVPs | FB Outsiders | Awards

A team-by-team analysis of the division. The arrow indicates which direction each team is trending.

New Orleans Saints

Final Power Ranking: 5

Biggest surprise: Wide receiver Robert Meachem said in the preseason this would be the year he showed the world why the Saints took him in the first round in 2007. A lot of people rolled their eyes at that one because Meachem had been a big disappointment in his first two seasons. But the man came through on his word. Meachem turned into a big-time player for the Saints. He scored nine touchdowns, showed very good hands and made things happen after the catch. Most of all, Meachem earned the trust of quarterback Drew Brees. He’s only going to keep getting better.

Biggest disappointment: There weren’t many in a 13-3 season. But you have to be a little concerned about the way the defense played over the second half of the season. After starting so well under new coordinator Gregg Williams, the defense slowed in its turnover production, in stopping the running game and had trouble with some ordinary passing games. Maybe things will go back to the way they were as the Saints get everybody healthy during the bye week. But recent indications leave questions about how much Williams really improved this defense.

Biggest need: With Charles Grant getting older and injured for the playoffs, the spotlight starts to turn another defensive end: The Saints have a pretty good one in Will Smith. But they could use another consistent pass-rusher who would cover up any problems in the secondary.

Team MVP: Brees. You can make a strong case for him as the league MVP. Even though that honor probably will go to Peyton Manning, who grew up in New Orleans, most people in New Orleans will swear that Brees is the real MVP.

Best move not made: The Saints talked about signing Edgerrin James or drafting Beanie Wells. They did neither and that turned out to be a brilliant move. The Saints went with a combination of Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and Reggie Bush, and coach Sean Payton made a strong commitment to the running game that paid off.


Atlanta Falcons

Final Power Ranking: 15

Biggest surprise: The schedule. The NFL handed the Falcons one of the league’s toughest schedules, including games against a bunch of teams coming off their byes. In some ways, it might have been payback for a light load in 2008, but it also seemed like the Falcons ran into a lot of teams when those teams were playing their best football of the season.

Biggest disappointment: The running game, which was so dominant in 2008’s playoff season, struggled with consistency most of the year. Just when it seemed as if Michael Turner was starting to get back to last year’s form, he got hurt and missed a lot of playing time down the stretch. The Falcons need to determine why Turner struggled and they have to address the reasons in the offseason. If Turner wasn’t in shape or wasn’t running well, it might be time to bring in an alternative. If the problem was with the offensive line, the Falcons need to go out and upgrade it.

Biggest need: A pass rush. Veteran John Abraham dropped off dramatically and no one else really stepped up. The Falcons need to get help for Abraham and an heir apparent. You could also say there are big needs in the secondary, but I don’t think they’re quite as dramatic. The old adage is that the best pass defense is a good pass rush. The Falcons need a better pass rush than they had this year.

Team MVP: Curtis Lofton. In his second season, and with some good guidance from veteran Mike Peterson, the second-year linebacker emerged as an on-field force and leader of a defense that got better as the season went on. Lofton became an every-down linebacker this year and anchored a run defense that allowed only one running back to run for 100 yards, and that was New England’s Fred Taylor in Week 3. Lofton didn’t make the Pro Bowl, but Atlanta’s coaches will tell you he played at that kind of level. If he keeps doing that, he’ll end up in the Pro Bowl when the Falcons become a playoff team.

Remember the rookies: A lot of people want to call general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s second draft a bust, especially since his first one was so great. But that’s not fair or accurate. The top two picks, defensive tackle Peria Jerry and safety William Moore, went down with season-ending injuries before they really had a chance to make an impact. In Jerry’s limited time, you could see he was going to be a difference-maker. He’ll have to make that difference a year later than expected.


Carolina Panthers

Final Power Ranking: 18

Biggest surprise: Julius Peppers. After making noise about wanting out of Carolina in the offseason, Peppers wound up sticking around. Somewhat out of character, Peppers showed up on a pretty consistent basis and was dominant at times. Of course, it might be argued Peppers was only showing up so he could earn himself a big contract somewhere else. That might be the truth.

Biggest disappointment: I still haven’t figured out what happened to quarterback Jake Delhomme. No, he never was Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. But for a very long time, he did a nice job of managing games and being reliable for Carolina’s ball-control offense. But Delhomme started throwing interceptions in bunches for no apparent reason. His performance ended up looking even worse when backup Matt Moore came in and actually had some success. We still don’t know for sure if Moore is good enough to be Carolina’s starting quarterback, but it’s painfully obvious Delhomme isn’t that anymore.

Biggest need: A quarterback. Let’s be real honest here. Moore did some very good things and he could end up being the answer. But has he really shown enough for us to know that for certain? No, period. At very least, the Panthers have to bring in a quarterback capable of competing with Moore for the starting job. This team has too much talent and John Fox has too much on the line not to have another strong option at quarterback.

Team MVP: Linebacker Jon Beason. Peppers had some big games, but Beason was a steady force on a defense that ended up being the best in the NFC South. He had 142 tackles and made some big plays. Beason wasn’t too happy when he was snubbed by Pro Bowl voters. He’s got a good point –- and he’s got plenty of motivation now.

What the heck?: There wasn’t a more stunning move off the field in the NFC South than owner Jerry Richardson firing sons Mark and Jon just before the season started. The Richardson brothers had largely been running the day-to-day operations of this team for a long time. We probably will never know the full story, but it’s safe to say the Richardson brothers had a major clash and their father thought it was so divisive that the franchise would be better off without them.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Final Power Ranking: 30

Biggest surprise: Oh, man, where do I start? This team had all sorts of surprises and most of them weren’t good. I guess I’ll go with the firing of offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski about a week before the regular season started. It was followed by claims Jagodzinski wasn’t organized and that his playbook was basically a pamphlet. If all that’s true, how did Raheem Morris miss the warning signs as he did his homework?

Biggest disappointment: Again, there are plenty of possibilities. But I’m going with receiver Antonio Bryant. He had a huge season last year and the Bucs placed the franchise tag on him. It meant he didn’t get a long-term contract, but it also meant he made about $10 million a season. The basic message from the Bucs was, “go out and show us you can do it one more time and we’ll reward you’’. Instead of doing that, Bryant did little for much of the year and, then, had the nerve to point the blame at just about everyone but himself. Umm, that’s not how you get a long-term deal. Good luck in free agency.

Biggest need: A defensive tackle. Yeah, there are needs just about everywhere, but this one is easily the biggest. Sad part is, it was the biggest need last offseason and, other than drafting Roy Miller in the third round, the Bucs didn’t address this. It was an obvious problem in the final month of Jon Gruden’s last season and the Bucs somehow decided Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims were the answer. They can’t think that this time around.

Team MVP: Josh Freeman. The rookie quarterback played only about half a season, but he’s the reason Morris is keeping his job. Freeman made some rookie mistakes, but he also had some moments of brilliance. At those times, it made you wonder what this kid can do with some real wide receivers to throw to.

Let’s finish with something positive: Easy -– Sammie Stroughter. The Bucs took a shot on the wide receiver, who had some personal problems in college, in the seventh round. Stroughter turned out to be their best receiver and a pretty good return man. So no, not every move the Bucs made was a disaster.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


We already know the Carolina Panthers face a must-win game tonight against Dallas.

Panthers-Cowboys Coverage
Yasinskas: Must win for Panthers
Mosley: Garrett better get money's worth
Scouts Inc.: 10 observations
More: MNF HQ
So what happens if they don’t win? Well, just about everything in Carolina probably will tumble.

The process may already have started when Mark and Jon Richardson resigned as team presidents just before the season opened. New team president Danny Morrison will get his first in-person look at the Panthers tonight.

Morrison’s going to play a big part in the future of this franchise, but I’d be more interested in hearing what’s going through the mind of owner Jerry Richardson if the Panthers lose to the Cowboys. It would be the first time the Panthers have started 0-3 since 1998. That’s the year the Panthers lost their first seven games and finished 4-12.

That season cost coach Dom Capers his job, just two seasons after he took the Panthers to the NFC Championship Game. Current coach John Fox has done a lot for this franchise and there’s still time to turn it around.

But Fox never has had back-to-back winning seasons and Richardson is painfully aware of that. A loss tonight greatly diminishes the chances of the Panthers making the playoffs or having a winning season. That would increase the chances of Fox losing his job.

Does it end there?

Probably not. Fox and general manager Marty Hurney have been a package deal throughout their time together in Carolina. If Fox goes, Hurney probably goes, too. But that’s not quite as automatic as many might think. Hurney has a strong relationship with Richardson. Hurney survived the George Seifert regime and could survive this.

Richardson basically let Hurney hire Fox. He might let Hurney make the next hire.

Mailbag: Carolina Panthers edition

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
3:00
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


The Carolina Panthers are the final stop on our tour of team-by-team mailbags.

Robert in Bakersfield, Calif. writes: Seeing as Steve Smith is such a passionate player, and hates to lose; how much patience do you see Smith showing the Panthers before he requests a trade to a different team?

Pat Yasinskas: I would never try to read Steve Smith’s mind, but I think we all know he is an incredibly competitive person. I can’t see him being happy when his team is losing. Smith has set roots down in Charlotte and seems pretty happy there. But, if the losing continues …well, let’s just say I don’t think Smith is the type of person who will sit still and tolerate it.


Nathan in Cary, NC writes: Pat, Two questions. First, does the Panthers' defensive woes have anything to do with playing 2 of the top QBs in the 1st 2 weeks, or is there a whole lot more? Also, why does everyone think Cowher can come to Carolina and put in a 3-4? All of Carolina's LBs are under or right at 240 lbs. I thought, for the 3-4, they needed to be closer to 250-260.

Pat Yasinskas: I’m sure playing against Donovan McNabb and Matt Ryan had something to do with the disappointing showings by the defense. But I think it goes deeper than that. Carolina’s defense just hasn’t been very good in the first two games and there were signs of this late last season. Any John Fox team is supposed to be built around defense. If he doesn’t get this defense going soon, it’s going to get ugly and the Bill Cowher cries will start coming. We’ll see how things play out with Fox. But, personally, I don’t see Cowher landing in Carolina under any circumstances. I think he’ll go to a bigger market if he returns to coaching. I also think the Panthers will go with a rising coordinator if they do make any move with Fox.


David in Poolesville, MD writes: Hey Pat.I wanted to inquire about a story you wrote about Jerry Richardson's sons. Is there any information that you know of that would explain this any more than a simple "They didn’t feel like doing it anymore"? I ask because this story is pretty disheartening, especially when considering the quality of person Jerry is, and the quality of organization the Panthers have working for them. Charlotte adores that team, meaning Jerry's sons surely threw out a truly golden opportunity here.

Pat Yasinskas: David, that’s a great question and the whole situation with Jerry Richardson and his sons Jon and Mark resigning as team presidents right before the first game is one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen. I’ve heard bits and pieces of the many rumors about this move. But I don’t have anything strong enough to report other than there was some sort of clash between the sons that the father thought was irreparable and he forced them to resign. We may never know the full story on this one because the three Richardsons are the only ones who really know what happened and I don’t expect them to ever talk about it. All I can say is that things must have been really bad if Jerry Richardson saw the best thing for this franchise was to get rid of his sons.


Jimmy in Charlotte writes: Not real sure how to take the Panthers so far this season. I had really high hopes for this year, but they’re starting to slip away. I know it’s not impossible to make the playoffs, but I feel as if Monday night in Big D is a must win for them. I also don't understand why they never blitz. Use what you have and make the best of it (ex. Peppers.) Just let him rush and that’s all, play 5 yards off the line so he has 2 steps on the OL.

Pat Yasinskas: Monday night in Dallas is a must-win game for the Panthers. They lose this one and their season is over. As for the blitz, Fox never has been known as a big believer in the blitz. Neither is new coordinator Ron Meeks. They believe in getting their pressure from the front four. The problem there is, you don’t get any pressure if you don’t get it from your front four.


Sheldon in Atlanta: The Panthers have been very up and down from the beginning and John Fox has not seemed able to bring them two winning seasons in a row. Don't you think they should consider a change at head coach if they fall under 500 again this season? They seem to have a revolving door with assistant coaches but at some point don't they have to make a change at the top?

Pat Yasinskas: Yep, Fox is clearly on the hot seat. He’s never put together back-to-back winning seasons and Richardson is painfully aware of that. Fox has done a lot of good for this franchise, but patience is wearing thin. Anything less than a playoff berth and I think Fox is gone.


Vance in Greensboro writes: Thomas Davis, in 2 losses, has shown heart and dedication to the Panthers. He is leading the NFL in tackles with 28. Just thought I would pass this on to you.

Pat Yasinskas: Let’s end this one on a positive note. Yes, Davis is having a very nice season. In fact, the former first-round pick has really blossomed over the last couple of years and has turned into a playmaker. At least the Panthers have something going for them.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Since his abrupt and bizarre resignation as team president of the Carolina Panthers just before the start of the season, we've known Mark Richardson would not be staying on the NFL's prestigious competition committee.

It was announced Thursday that Stephen Jones of the Dallas Cowboys will fill Richardson's spot. Kind of ironic because Jones is similar to Richardson in a lot of ways. They're both the sons of team owners -- Jerry Richardson owns the Panthers and Jerry Jones owns the Cowboys -- and they both have paid their dues.

This is a coup for Stephen Jones and for the Cowboys. (Gee, think he might have some pull when it comes time to talk more about raising up that scoreboard for punters?) It's also sad for Carolina. Jerry Richardson viewed it as a victory and a point of pride when his son first was named to the competition committee and it was supposed to be another step toward Mark Richardson being the eventual owner.

But that all fell apart when Mark Richardson resigned and brother Jon Richardson did the same with his role of running Bank of America Stadium. That clearly closed a chapter for the Panthers. Still not sure exactly what was behind all of that, but I've heard all the same rumors you have. My guess is we never truly will know because the only three that know the full story are the three Richardsons and they're not talking about it.

NFC South chat Friday at 1 p.m.

September, 4, 2009
9/04/09
9:33
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


Thanks to the weirdness surrounding the situations involving Mark and Jon Richardson and Jeff Jagodzinski, Friday’s NFC South chat has the potential to be pretty interesting. Oh, and don’t forget the Falcons traded for Tye Hill and there’s a regular season almost upon us.

Should be a fun one. Chat starts at 1 p.m. ET. Here’s the link to get there.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


The Panthers just announced the hiring of a new team president. Here's a copy of the story I just sent to our news desk:

The Carolina Panthers have named Danny Morrison as team president, a day after Mark and Jon Richardson resigned from their executive posts with the team.

Morrison, who spent the last four years as director of athletics for Texas Christian University, has deep ties to the organization. He previously worked at Wofford College, the alma mater of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and the site of the team’s training camp for the first 15 years of its existence.

“We are very familiar with Danny and he is very familiar with our organization,” Jerry Richardson said in a statement issued by the team. “He has been successful as a college administrator and commissioner and brings a business expertise and sense of community that fits the position perfectly.”

The move comes after Mark and Jon Richardson, the owner’s only sons, resigned from their posts as team and stadium presidents. The team has not given any reason for the departures, although the Richardson sons will remain part of the team’s ownership group.

The team said Morrison’s role will include business operations, Bank of America Stadium business interests and representing the team in league matters. Morris will start his new role in about a month, the team said.

“We have been blessed to be part of the TCU and Fort Worth communities for the last four years. I have had a wonderful experience working at Texas Christian with Chancellor Boschini and the entire staff at the university. Leaving is not easy, but working with Jerry Richardson and the Carolina Panthers is a tremendous opportunity,” says Morrison. “I am thrilled to be joining an organization I have followed closely since its inception. Meeting the high standards that Mr. Richardson sets is a challenge I embrace.”

Clouds don't mean storm in Carolina

September, 2, 2009
9/02/09
10:54
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


In the 24 hours or so since Mark and Jon Richardson resigned their positions as presidents with the Carolina Panthers, I’ve talked to a lot of friends and professional acquaintances in Charlotte. Most of the time, I felt like I was talking to people in Boston.

It seems like Panthers fans suddenly have become the second coming of Red Sox fans. You know the attitude -- a general acceptance that anything that can go wrong will, and an overall gloomy view before the season even starts.

I think that’s a mistake. Sure, it doesn’t quite look like the stars have been lining up for the Panthers this preseason. The defense has looked bad, injuries are piling up and the change at the top, at the very least, suggests there was some dysfunction within the organization.

But does all that just turn a team that was 12-4 last season into a 6-10 team? I’m not buying it and I grew up a Red Sox fan in the most cruel years in the team's history.

Sure, there are things to be concerned about with the Panthers. The defense has to play better than it has in the preseason, the injuries to linebacker Jon Beason, running back Jonathan Stewart, linebacker Thomas Davis and safety Charles Godfrey are reasons for worry, and the Richardson saga creates drama for a team that doesn’t like drama at an inopportune time.

But you know what? Every team has some issues with the regular season almost upon us, and the Panthers have less issues than a lot of teams out there. They’ve also got plenty of positives -- a great running game, a very good offensive line, Steve Smith and the possibility of a huge year by Julius Peppers.

You really think the resignations by the Richardsons are going to impact this team on the field? Mark Richardson made sponsorship deals. Jon Richardson made sure the grass grew and the lights worked at Bank of America Stadium. Few of the players had direct interaction with the Richardson brothers.

Just because they resigned, don’t go resigning yourself to the assumption the Panthers are in for a long season.

Richardson off competition committee

September, 1, 2009
9/01/09
2:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


I know speculation and rumors are flying in Charlotte -- and all around the league -- about Tuesday’s stunning announcement that Mark and Jon Richardson have resigned as presidents with the Carolina Panthers.

But we don’t get into speculation and rumors here. I’m working the phone and will let you know if I get any definitive explanation for this move.

One bit of fact we can report here: Mark Richardson will come off the NFL’s competition committee. I just got that from a league spokesman, who said no timetable has been set for naming a replacement.

This might not seem like a big deal, but Richardson’s spot on the competition committee was a feather in his cap and a coup for the Panthers. The competition committee is very influential in league matters and those positions are valued greatly.

This will leave the Panthers without a voice in the room when potential rule changes are first debated.

Bizarre shakeup at the top in Carolina

September, 1, 2009
9/01/09
12:49
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


Bizarre story out of Carolina on Tuesday. David Scott and Charles Chandler report that Mark Richardson has resigned as the Panthers president and brother Jon Richardson has resigned as stadium president.

The Panthers aren’t giving any explanation yet and this one seems really strange because the Richardson brothers essentially have been running things the last few years -- even before father and team owner Jerry Richardson underwent a heart transplant in February.

The Richardson brothers will remain part of the franchise ownership group, but this one smacks of some sort of internal conflict. Mark Richardson has been influential in league circles and is a member of the competition committee -- although we’ll see if this changes that. Jerry Richardson still is recovering from his surgery and has resumed some duties. The Panthers have been run almost entirely by the Richardson family since they came into existence and it’s hard to imagine that changing.

I’ll check around and see if I can get more details on what’s behind this very strange move.

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