Carolina Panthers

Panthers aren't as bad off as you think

CHARLOTTE -- Sure, you're angry. Anyone with an emotional or financial attachment to the Carolina Panthers would be.

But before you start grabbing up the pitchforks and the torches, make sure you know exactly who you're looking to get rid of.

The natural reaction for any fan of a team on a losing streak is a burning desire to fire someone. In this case, that feeling extends from the top of the organization to the bottom. Thus, the hue and cry for the jobs of coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney, Jeff Davidson, Mike Trgovac, Danny Crossman, the training staff, whoever. Line up boys, here's your cigarette.

But do you really know what's at stake, or what you're willing to risk for the sake of change?

They're scuffling right now, there's a valid reason for it, it could be a lot worse and it is in most places.

Just as when dealing with firearms, computers, liquor or women, however, it's probably a good idea to take a moment and draw a deep breath, making sure you know what you're aiming for before you go with your gut.

That's why this isn't an argument for hotheads, but for cold data.

• Since the dawn of the Fox-Hurney regime in 2002, they've got the 11th-best record in the NFL, at 48-41. Among NFC teams, they're fourth, behind Philadelphia, Seattle and Green Bay.

• Over that span, three teams have more playoff wins -- New England (9), Indianapolis (7) and Pittsburgh (6). The Panthers are tied with Philadelphia, and their record is better (5-2 to 5-4).

• Among that select group, only the Patriots and Steelers can match the Panthers' four postseason road wins.

• The Panthers are the only team in the NFC South with a winning record since 2002, four games up on Tampa Bay (44-45), followed by Atlanta (43-45-1) and New Orleans (42-47).

Here are a few more things that are easy to see, once you calm down.

• Fire Fox if you will, but he'll have another job in a week, and probably one in a conference where he'll drop by from time to time.

He's not exciting, not particularly helpful to deal with from a media standpoint, but the guy took a very bad thing and made it better. The opinion of his work among league scouts, personnel men and executives is far different from the fans'.

• As to personnel, they have their issues, but there's no arguing the current roster's better than the one Fox inherited.

They hang onto beloved veterans too long, and being too loyal to guys like Mike Minter and Mike Rucker is a risk they're willing to take.

You might not believe they've gotten return on the big money given to guys like Mike Wahle, Justin Hartwig and Maake Kemoeatu in free agency, but if you're going to play the game, that's how much tickets cost. They're better off with those three in the lineup than some of the potential replacements.

There are some celebrated misses in the draft (Eric Shelton, Rashad Butler, Atiyyah Ellison, etc.), but they've hit on their first-rounders, and that's the important thing. It's also helpful to keep in mind they held the door open for their old college scouting director to take another job in 2006, meaning you'd be wise to draw a line after the 2005 draft and consider the ones since separate entities with different decision-making structures.

They were old, expensive and bad in 2001, and even if you think they're in a tough spot now, there's at least some promise. Of the 53 on the roster at this moment, 25 have yet to play their third full year in the league.

• Keyshawn Johnson's gone because of the previous fact. As much as the veteran receiver talked about being a mentor to young wideouts, they decided that wasn't anything they wanted.

• The Panthers are 4-5 and not at least 6-3 for one reason: Jake Delhomme's hurt.

They certainly beat Atlanta, and get either Tampa Bay or Tennessee if there's a quarterback on the field who can make a single play.

To a clinical eye, that's the one true key to this season.

If you wanted to fire Fox and Hurney on Sept. 22, the day before Delhomme's elbow exploded, fine.

But if you just decided you wanted them gone since they beat Atlanta the next day, it's only because they weren't able to crawl inside Delhomme's elbow and hold it together.

I'm no doctor, but I don't think they'd fit.

Neither do many of the arguments for firing them.

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