Carolina Panthers

Future for everyone up in the air

Panthers coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney might both be looking for new jobs next season.
Panthers coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney might both be looking for new jobs next season.

CHARLOTTE -- They all say they don't read the papers, they don't listen to the radio. Many of them are lying.

But you don't have to be plugged into the local media to know the season's gone down the tubes for the Carolina Panthers, and that means there will be changes throughout the organization this offseason.

How high those changes go, and whether they'll include head coach John Fox, remains to be seen. But the guys in the locker room, at least the ones who have been through similar years before, know they can't worry about it.

"We're just trying to win a couple of ball games right now," veteran guard Mike Wahle said, speaking of today's game against Seattle. "We're having a hard enough time doing that. That's our main focus. Whatever happens in the offseason, this is going to be a different team next year. There's no question about it.

"That's not my problem (Fox's job security). Guys are out here trying to win ball games. When you don't win in this league, change happens. It's out of our control. We just have to go out and try to win."

Still, it can be a little bothersome for them, knowing the guy running things -- as well as the assistants who could be offered up if Fox stays -- might not be here three weeks from tomorrow.

"We don't know what's going to happen, but what you do know is you've got three games," longtime defensive end Mike Rucker said. "I think the way you look at it, when you start talking about coaches and stuff, you've got to think players. Players are going to be gone, too. All that stuff's out of your control right now. For you to go home and worry about that, you're doing yourself a disservice and the team a disservice. What you have to do is focus on three games.

"Once you get to the offseason, changes are going to be made, here or somewhere else. If you finish the way you're supposed to finish, you can hold your head high, that you didn't let somebody beat you down and you didn't tuck your tail."

Like most of the old hands, 13th-year long snapper Jason Kyle has been through seasons like this before, when the rumors crank up early, and the perception of trouble can outgrow its reality.

"It kind of snowballs with the media; how real it is, I don't know," Kyle said of the talk of potential firings, which grows louder by the week. "Do we hear it or read it? I'm sure a lot of guys do. Who really cares is another question. It's a topic of conversation right now. I'm sure a handful of guys read it, the rest it filters through by word of mouth.

"But again, it's not up to us, it's up to (owner) Jerry Richardson what he's going to decide to do. He doesn't talk to me about it, so i'm just going to keep doing my job."

Guarding against getting caught up in the firestorm means players have to become a little mercenary.

Tight end Christian Fauria's spent 13 years in the league. He still remembers going through his first pending coaching change, knowing the Seahawks would be dismantled after the 1998 season if coach Dennis Erickson didn't get them into the playoffs.

He laughed recalling the story, because it was now-teammate Vinny Testaverde's dive into the end zone (or not) which cost Erickson his job, and might have brought about instant replay.

"It's as hard as you let it," Fauria said of focusing amid all the speculation. "I don't think it's hard at all. This isn't the college game, it's not like it's your last game and you're done. This is what you do for a living, So you want to do your best at your job.

"For people who haven't been through it, it might be hard for them. For us older guys, it's important to tell them, the most important game is the next game. Keep playing and get better. You want to win games. Winning takes care of everything. I don't care what you do or where. If you win, everything goes away."

To his credit, Fox hasn't changed appreciably over the last two months, though the fortunes of the team certainly have.

Tackle Jordan Gross, who has only worked for Fox in his five years in the league, said he appreciates his boss's calm during times that are anything but.

"One thing Fox always does a good job of, if he's happy, he doesn't let it show incredibly much and if he's unhappy he doesn't let it show incredibly much," Gross said. "He's not putting any extra stress on us for his job. We all know when you lose, there's going to be changes. Everybody just wants to do their best."

And whether there are changes in coaches or not, they all know the landscape of the locker room will be drastically different this time next year.

Linebacker Na'il Diggs, in his eighth year in the league, said that makes December one of the hardest months of the calendar.

"Coming from a veteran guy, I've never, not once, gotten it right --trying to predict who's going to be here and who's not," he said with a grin. "I used to be able to make a lot of good friends with players, it got to the point, I got so frustrated, I don't want to get too close to this guy, because they end up taking them away.

"You just never know, if you're going to be here, who's going to be here. So many things, happen, not just your team but other teams. We've got free agents coming up. Sometimes the team you want to be on is not the team you end up on. That's the business part of this.

"Every year you make new friends, meet new people and that's part of this. But this time of year, the way things are going, nobody could have foreseen it to go like this. But everybody's season is going to come to an end at some point."

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