In news that will shock no one who has been paying attention to the situation over the past couple of years, the Panthers officially announced on Friday that Sunday will be John Fox’s last game as head coach with the team.
Fox was first denied a contract extension after the 2008 season. He entered the last year of his deal this fall after the Panthers began a youth movement that’s left them an NFL-worst 2-13 and the league’s worst offense, but they will have the No. 1 overall draft pick in April.
“It’s not new,” Fox said of his impending departure. “It’s something I’ve been preparing for actually for a couple of years.”
League sources told ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas that Fox was allowed to explore other options before this season. Sources said he was a candidate for the Buffalo Bills’ opening that eventually went to Chan Gailey, but Fox elected to finish out his contract with the Panthers.
A rift had developed between Richardson and Fox since Carolina’s 33-13 loss to Arizona in the team’s last playoff game in January 2009. Fox was more vocal this season in showing displeasure for several personnel moves that left the Panthers short on experience and talent.
I would say that it’s weird for a team to allow its head coach to pursue other job openings only to retain him knowing they wouldn’t renew his contract at the end of the year. But then again this is the Carolina Panthers were talking about. This was a team that handed Jake Delhomme millions of dollars even though everyone and their brother could see his confidence had deteriorated to nothing. (Somehow Delhomme still tricked the Browns into giving him a two-year contract, but that’s a matter for a different time.)
Fox is 78-73 in Carolina so no matter what happens this Sunday in Atlanta, he’ll leave the Panthers will a winning record. He also took the team to its first and only Super Bowl in 2003 and usually got the most out of his players.
That said, I’ve long thought that Fox received too much credit for his accomplishments. The Panthers were the model of inconsistency under Fox, often making the playoffs one year only to miss it the next. He’s never been a great X’s and O’s guy, although I suspect there will be plenty of Giants fans that hope he makes his way back to New York if Tom Coughlin is fired. (I warn you Giant fans, it’s not always a good thing to get what you ask for.) His handling of players like Delhomme (are you telling me Fox and his coaching staff thought Delhomme was still the answer after that six-interception performance against Arizona?) and Steve Smith (who could have set fire to Fox’s office and still played on Sunday) never sat right with me either.
But regardless of my personal thoughts about him, he will receive another head coaching opportunity. There will be plenty of openings once “Black Monday” arrives next week and he’ll land on his feet again. As for the Panthers, they’ll hire somebody young and cheap and I imagine ownership will find new ways to muck things up.