Carolina Panthers

January 16, 2008

Richardson: Work needs to be done to fix team

CHARLOTTE -- That Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson stays quiet is nothing new.

But Wednesday, he said his latest radio silence owed partly to that he didn't think there was anything worth talking about late last season.

Although speculation swirled about the futures of coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney, Richardson said he never spoke on the topic since he didn't see it as an issue.

Richardson met with a small group of reporters, his first comments to the local media since August. That was when safety Mike Minter retired during training camp, and even then, he didn't take questions.

During the interview, Richardson talked about visiting with all 183 of his employees in late November, at which point the team had lost five straight (before snapping the skid with a win over San Francisco). The last two he met with that week were Fox and Hurney after the team's Friday practice.

"I told them ... just to put your mind at ease," Richardson said. "It seems grim right now but the sky is not falling.

"If you have a job, if you don't have problems and issues, you don't have a real job. You've got something else. We've got jobs and problems and issues."

When asked later if he considered making a statement to end the speculation, Richardson replied, "In my mind, I had covered that back whenever we played the 49ers.

"I never really talked about their jobs maybe in the way you asked. I didn't go through some exercise of changing coaches, if that's what you're asking me."

He also referred to his long-standing policy of not commenting on players or coaches who are under contract, saying, "If I get on that treadmill, then I'm on it -- from that point, every year."

As to the substance of his postseason meeting with Fox and Hurney, Richardson said their goals were simple. Since he's come into the league, he's long expressed admiration for the Rooney family, which owns the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He said he wants to run his stadium the way they do, his organization the way they do, so it follows he wants his team to look like theirs.

"We want to be a physical team," Richardson said. "And we want to be able to run the ball, stop the run, and if you do those two things, you're likely going to have opportunities to exploit the passing game, specifically with Steve (Smith). We always want to be good on special teams.

"You know how I feel about the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Rooney family. I would like for the Carolina Panthers and our team and the way we operate our team to emulate the Pittsburgh Steelers, and John and Marty know that. That's the best example I can give them."

Toward that end, Richardson said he expected an active offseason in order to reverse the team's recent fortunes. They've gone 15-17 since their appearance in the 2005 NFC Championship.

"I think it will be (busy)," Richardson said. "John and Marty are prepared, and I think they've got a lot to do now. It's not going to be a ho-hum offseason, I wouldn't think."

They discussed the future during a two-day trip to Richardson's lake house, where he also took a group of five players prior to last season. That was about bonding. The recent trip was about fixing the mess the team has become, in part because of the injuries that hammered the quarterback position last year.

They had an afternoon-long discussion, and then a follow-up the next morning. Richardson made them shut down the first set of football talks before supper, and joked that he did a bed check at 9:30 p.m. to make sure things were done for the day.

Richardson said the three hours of discussion that followed affirmed their stances.

"Some of them had changed a little ... mostly they were reinforced as opposed to changed," Richardson said. "It wasn't a debate, more of a reinforcement. I asked what they thought wanted team to look like. They told me.

"I said it's real important that we all agree what we want to be. We agreed."

The changes he alluded to seem obvious, since the coaching staff has already recommended to the personnel side the upgrading of eight starting jobs from 2007. The Panthers have several big-ticket items to handle between now and the start of free agency, with the top item being a new contract for free-agent-to-be tackle Jordan Gross.

Both sides view that as a likelihood, and if he's signed to a big-money deal (figuring to be well north of $7 million per year), it's likely to be the beginning of remaking the offensive line. Veteran guard Mike Wahle has reached an awkward point in the age-salary-talent matrix, and left tackle Travelle Wharton's also a free agent.

Richardson was asked if he regretted his public challenge to defensive end Julius Peppers during Minter's retirement ceremony. If he did, it was only in the way the story grew.

"I don't know if I regret it," he said. "It turned into such an issue, and the fact to be such an issue, I do regret. I didn't intend for it to become an issue. It just seemed like a natural thing to say. That one leader was leaving the team in Mike, his value to the team, was to speak to a younger player about what I said, somebody's got to be the leader. I chose Julius.

"I don't apologize for it, and I don't regret it, but I regret that it's one of those things that built up."

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