Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It Was What It Was: The End of the John Fox Era

For my first contribution to this blog, I figured I'd come up with a brief review of the Panthers season, and from there design a road map for where I'd like to see them go in the immediate future.  However, so much changed from '09 to '10, and so much more has changed since the end of the season, that this could be more difficult than it seems.  I'll give it a shot.

As a diehard Panthers fan, I must admit I was more optimistic than most that we could contend for a playoff spot in 2010.  The running game was expected to be stout once again, and the defense looked talented and had always played well under then-coach John Fox.  The x-factor was quarterback Matt Moore, who was handed the keys after playing superbly in relief duty at the tail end of the previous season.  Moore would need to prove 2009 was not a fluke.

Well, 2009 was a fluke.  With more time to game-plan for him, opposing defenses quickly capitalized on Moore's tendencies to lock onto Steve Smith and spend too much time holding on to the football instead of throwing it away (or, you know, to a Panthers receiver).  Fox foolishly benched Moore after two games in favor of rookie Jimmy Clausen, who quickly proved that he was nowhere near ready to play.  An inability to produce anything remotely resembling a passing game effectively killed the running game, and it quickly became apparent that the Panthers were, well, not good.

Yeah, this about sums it up.
No amount of horrible, canned cliches from Fox could save this season, although it's worth mentioning that the players admirably continued to work their butts off for him.  I think that speaks volumes for the coach, especially since everyone knew halfway through the season that this would be the end of his reign here.  The Panthers finished 2-14 and may have been 0-16 if they hadn't played the woeful NFC West, with the wins coming against Arizona and San Francisco, and the team publicly announced that Fox's contract would not be renewed.

Then, on Sunday, December 26, something happened: the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos both won in dramatic fashion, ensuring the Panthers the number one pick in this April's draft.  Hope was renewed.  A superstar named Andrew Luck, the Stanford quarterback, had been hyped as the surest prospect at the position since Peyton Manning.  I immediately developed a ridiculous man crush on Luck, and the rest of the city seemed to follow suit.

Luck, however, decided to stay in school.  The qualities that made the kid so desirable are the same qualities that made him want to fulfill his commitment to get a degree from Stanford.  The Panthers still have the number one pick, of course, and what they now do with it at least makes for more of an interesting - if not depressing - argument amongst fans.  The franchise also had an entire coaching staff to replace, and has since moved on that task impressively.  Look for an analysis of those decisions, as well as possible moves in the draft, in future postings.

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