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Sunday, December 19, 2010
Where do Panthers turn after Fox departs?

By Pat Yasinskas

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.