It has been said that “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” If this maxim is true, then the Carolina Panthers should reach new heights in 2009.
The Cats’ coaching staff is determined, driven, and desperate. Desperate because management and fans are expecting a Super Bowl title in Charlotte in the near future. The coaching staff must deliver or may find themselves standing in unemployment lines with much of the rest of America.
The top Cat on the coaching staff is wily veteran John Fox. While the media sometimes castigates Fox because of his bland personality and unquotable nature, the players seem to love him.
Fox is the ultimate players’ coach. He refuses to air the team’s dirty laundry in public and will not throw a player under the bus no matter how poorly he played.
Even after QB Jake Delhomme’s monumental stinker in the playoffs this past year against the Arizona Cardinals, Fox simply gave this memorable reply, “Jake picked a bad game to have a bad game.”
Fox’s favorite reply is his stock answer, “It is what it is.”
Fox is what he is. A winner.
In seven years as head coach (all with the Panthers), he has compiled a 63-49 regular season record and a 5-3 postseason record. He has led the Cats to a first or second place finish five out of seven years.
In his second year, Fox directed the Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII where they lost a heart-breaker to the Patriots.
Fox is a “throwback” coach in a modern age. He still relies on defense and a strong running game. Last year’s draft coup of RB Jonathan Stewart and OL Jeff Otah should have the Panthers set to run effectively for years to come.
The Panthers’ assistant head coach is Jim Skipper, who also doubles as their running back’s coach. This veteran of over 22 years in the NFL wars has been with the Cats since Fox’s arrival. Skipper has employed eight different starting halfbacks in his tenure with the Panthers and six of them have surpassed the 100-yard mark in a single game.
In 2007 the Panthers lured Jeff Davidson away from Cleveland to Charlotte to become the offensive coordinator. Before his two-year stint with the Browns, he found great success leading the offense for the Patriots for eight years.
Davidson has played to mixed reviews thus far in Charlotte. His first year was marred by the season-ending injury to Delhomme that led to the quarterback carousel of 2007. The Cats even brought aged Vinny Testaverde out of retirement to direct the offense for a time. Davidson has the distinction of leading the first offense to ever win games in the same season with four different starting quarterbacks.
The jury is still out on Davidson. Last year’s “Smash and Dash” RB combo of Stewart and DeAngelo Williams enabled the Cats to be primarily a running team again. If the Panthers are to become the league’s best in 2009, they will have to become more versatile offensively.
Assisting Davidson with the offense are Rip Scherer (QB’s coach), Geep Chryst (tight ends), Richard Williamson (wide receivers), and Dave Magazu (offensive line).
The collapse that occurred during the last half of 2008 led to changes on the defensive side of the ball.
Ron Meeks, after seven mostly successful years leading the defense for the Colts, was brought in as defensive coordinator to replace Mike Trgovac. Meeks is a high-energy guy who may do more blitzing and employ more of the Tampa 2 pass coverage he learned at Tampa Bay under Tony Dungy.
Meeks will undergo a trial by fire in his first year with the uncertainty of the return of star DE Julius Peppers and the Panthers’ difficult schedule in 2009.
The Cats invested several top draft picks on defenders to help shore up their porous defense. Panthers’ nation will be looking for immediate improvement on this side of the ball.
Meeks has some very capable coaches working under him. Brian Baker (defensive line), Mike Gillhamer and Ron Milus (secondary), Richard Smith (linebackers), and Sam Mills III (quality control).
Special teams has long been a strength of the Panthers. Danny Crossman became special teams coordinator in 2005 and has established the Cats as a top tier unit. Crossman is assisted by Jeff Rodgers.
An area of importance that often goes unnoticed until the fourth quarter collapse in the big game is that of strength and conditioning. The Panthers are in good hands here with Jerry (not Richard) Simmons as their strength and conditioning coach.
The 2009 coaching staff for the Panthers is battle-tested. The Panthers are poised for a memorable year.