John Fox is a bland, old-school football coach that respects the game and his players more than anything else.
Fox preaches defense, having spent all of his time as a coach on the defensive side of the ball, including a stint as the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants under Jim Fassel before being hired by the Carolina Panthers in 2002 following a 1-15 season.
Entering his seventh year as Head Coach of the Panthers, Fox hopes to build on the team’s epic blunder in the playoffs against the Arizona Cardinals, a game that resulted in an embarrassing 33-13 loss on the Panthers’ home field.
There has been minimal turnover on Carolina’s roster, with cornerback Ken Lucas the lone member of the 22 starting position players that is not back. But Fox has brought in two new assistants, including defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, to bring a new approach to a defense that struggled mightily in the second half of the season.
Fox boasts a career record of 63-49, including a 5-3 record in the postseason. He guided the Panthers to the brink of a Super Bowl Championship in Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2003 until an Adam Vinatieri field goal quashed the hopes of Panther Nation.
The Panthers have won four straight road playoff games under Fox, and are one of three teams in NFL History to reach the playoffs following a one-win season.
After taking over in 2002, Fox led the Panthers to a 7-9 campaign, the largest improvement in wins in the league that season.
The knock on Fox is that he has never guided the Panthers to back-to-back winning seasons or playoff appearances in his seven years at the helm, but with the returning nucleus of players, that could all change in 2009.
Fox’s right-hand man for the seventh straight season will be Assistant Head Coach/Running backs Jim Skipper.
Skipper has served as the tutor for eight different running backs for the Panthers, and six of them have gone on to rush for 100 yards during games with a seventh—Brad Hoover—netting 99 yards during one of his rare starts at halfback.
Skipper has 22 years of NFL coaching experience and came to the Panthers with Fox from the New York Giants.
Running the offense for the third year will be Jeff Davidson. Davidson was the architect of one the NFL’s most explosive rushing attacks in 2008 with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Who combined for over 2,300 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Davidson was a part of the vaunted Bill Belichick coaching regime that saw the Patriots make five playoff appearances, win four division titles, three conference championships, and three Super Bowls.
Oddly enough, Davidson’s best work may have come during his initial season with the Panthers in 2007.
Besieged by a season-ending elbow injury to Jake Delhomme, Davidson schemed his way around four different starting quarterbacks to help the team craft a 7-9 record.
With one of the league’s best running games, one of its most explosive receivers in Steve Smith, a veteran quarterback in Delhomme, and a solid offensive line, Davidson has many weapons to mold the game plan around.
Other offensive assistants for the Panthers are: Geep Chryst (tight ends), Dave Magazu (offensive line), Rip Scherer (quarterbacks), and Richard Williamson (wide receivers).
Ron Meeks will enter his first year as the defensive coordinator with the Panthers, but his name is highly regarded around the league as one of the top defensive minds in the game.
Meeks spent the last seven seasons in Indianapolis with Tony Dungy as the Colts defensive coordinator, where he learned the nuances of the 3-4 defense as well as the famed “Cover Two” that Tampa Bay revolutionized under Dungy.
Meeks helped revitalize the Colts defense during their 2006 Super Bowl run and was credited with the development of Bob Sanders, the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year.
In his seven seasons, the Colts were in the top-seven in points allowed five times. In 2007, the Colts defense led the league in points allowed with 262 and finished third in total defense.
Fox, who prefers a traditional 4-3 scheme on defense, feels comfortable that Meeks can bring some new direction to the Panthers talented defensive unit that may or may not include Julius Peppers.
Other assistant coaches for the defense are: Brian Baker (defensive line), Mike Gillhamer (secondary), Sam Mills III (quality control), Ron Milus (secondary), and Richard Smith (linebackers).
A veteran coaching staff with a veteran roster may be the right mix for the Panthers this season in the NFC South as they look to build on a 12-4 finish and Division Championship.