Carolina Panthers' Coaches Have One Thing In Common: Winning
Members of the coaching staff assembled by John Fox at Carolina come from all corners of the country.
They range in experience from a handful of seasons to decades. They've played at BCS programs and at schools so small you didn't know there was a division for that level of competition.
But there's one thing this diverse group does have in common: Winning.
Say what you want about Fox and his conservative ways—and many Panther fans have and do—what's inarguable is that since he arrived at Carolina in 2002 the franchise has become a legit NFL power.
The team is 56-47 under his tenure, the ninth-most victories in the league over that time, and has twice gone to the playoffs.
And Fox has made sure to surround himself the entire time with coaches who are good at not losing.
Assistant head and running backs coach Jim Skipper coached with Fox for four years in New York when both were part of a staff that led the Giants to an NFC Championship game and a Super Bowl.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson, about to start his third season with the Panthers, earned three Super Bowls rings in eight seasons as a coach for the New England Patriots.
Defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, hired earlier this year, won a Super Bowl in Indianapolis, and five times in seven years his Colts were among the top seven defenses in the NFL.
Defensive line coach Brian Baker? He won a national championship as a linebackers coach at Georgia Tech. Offensive line coach Dave Magazu? He was was one of the coaches responsible for the best team in Colorado State history and earned status an offensive line guru while churning out NFL players at Boston College.
The list goes on. But Fox is also about performance, and as conservative as he's perceived to be with on-field philosophy he's nothing of not proactive off it when the Panthers start to slide.
For instance, Fox had never had an offense rank better than 13th in the league under then-coordinator Dan Henning, and Henning was shown the door after a 2006 season that saw Carolina ranked 24th in total offense and 27th in scoring largely because they couldn't run the ball—an unforgivable sin to Fox's pound-it-out-philosophy.
Enter Davidson, who last season guided the Panthers to easily their best offensive performance since Fox arrived - fueled by the NFL's best ground attack. It probably saved Fox's job.
Since 2006, Carolina's passing attempts have gone from 539 to 505 to 414 (even with Jake Delhomme returning from injury) while the Panthers have run the ball 423, 451 and 504 times as their total offensive ranking has jumped from 29th to 10th—proving that Fox's run-first approach can and does work with the right people.
Is it any surprise Davidson was a former NFL offensive lineman?
Defense was the same story, or at least the same result. Defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac was supposedly not fired after seven seasons, but whatever the reasons for his departure the fact is that Carolina has slipped badly on that side of the ball over the last two years.
Trogovac's units ranked in the top 10 in three of this first four seasons, but in '07 the Panthers fell to 16th and then 18th in '08 largely because they could not generate a consistent pass rush or force turnovers (especially interceptions).
Enter Meeks, a former defensive back whose Indianapolis team ranked second in interceptions in 2007.
His expected shift to a 3-4—used by the Panthers back in '95 when Kevin Greene was terrorizing quarterbacks—would take better advantage of Carolina's athletic linebackers -Jon Beason and Thomas Davis in particular—and give relatively undersized defensive ends Charles Johnson and rookie Everette Brown more room to use their speed.
While Fox obviously prefers the 4-3 based on his past teams, he prefers ranking second in total defense—as Carolina did in 2002—even more. He wouldn't have hired Meeks if he didn't plan to let him deliver.
Another interesting similarity between members of Fox's staff is a decidedly workmanlike history and his determination to hire the best people no matter where they're from. Indeed, the group is a veritable who's who of "where is that school again?"
Fox attended San Diego State. Skipper, Whittier College; Meeks, Arkansas State; and tight ends coach Geep Chryst is a product of Princeton.
Secondary coach Mike Gillhamer went to Humboldt State; Magazu Springfield (Mass.), while Sam Mills III, responsible for defensive quality control, played at Montclair State.
Special teams assistant Jeff Rodgers is out of North Texas. Quarterbacks coach Rip Sherer graduated from William & Mary.
Only Davidson (Ohio State) and wide receivers coach Richard Williamson (Alabama) came from major college powers.
The coaches have also paid their football dues and know what it's like to work and play hard for reasons other than fame and glory—traits not surprising to find in hires of the son of a Navy SEAL.
Fox began his career in 1978 and had 12 jobs in 17 years before landing with the Giants, including jobs in the USFL and at United States International University. Skipper coached in the USFL AND the XFL.
Meeks played on the wide, lonely fields of the CFL because he never got a shot in the NFL. Special teams coach Danny Crossman toiled for the London Monarchs.
Fox would think there was no higher compliment than for someone to say his team knows how to handle adversity and isn't afraid to get dirty while going after what it wants - and he and his coaches can preach the message because they've walked the walk.
Criticize Fox if you like, but he is true to his beliefs and he's determined to succeed that way.
If you're a Carolina fan, you'd better get on board. As long as Fox is here, this is the way it's going to be. And so far, so good.
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