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Friday, January 22, 2010

Tolbert Hired as WRs coach

Carolina announced Tyke Tolbert as their new WRs coach this week. Tolbert, formerly of Buffalo, had been there for six years, hired by Mike Mularkey in 2004 and retained by Dick Jauron two years later.

Tolbert also spent a year in Arizona under Dave McGinness. He was involved in the development of Anquan Boldin, who was a rookie Pro Bowler.

In Buffalo, Tolbert helped push Lee Evans to the next level, leading the Bills most seasons and being explosive despite major quarterback issues. Jake Reed, as well, was solid most years there, having caught over 50 footballs in back to back years before being replaced by Terrell Owens.

On the downside, Roscoe Parrish had, at best, mediocre results as a wide receiver. The second round pick was essentially a special teams/return player - he never caught more than 35 balls.

Tolbert was a receiver with LSU before starting his college career at Louisiana-Lafayette and Louisiana-Monroe, with one year stops at Florida and Auburn before coming to the NFL.

Tolbert was rumored to have left the Bills to go to LSU before the end of the 2009 season, which cast doubt on my evaluation of him when putting out names for the position. But, being an alum, and given the NFL's labor unrest, I could see a cozy position at a major power at home.

At any rate, what we get is a much younger (42) version of Williamson himself - maybe less gruff and more energetic, but certainly hard working. With hope, he can help fix one of the major problems of the 2009 season.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Just How Bad Was Crossman?

Pretty bad, really.

This article from Panthers.com gives an idea as to how bad. It also gives a solid feel for how much better the last two years' work on the team website has been since the Brett Borden days, but that's a separate topic.

So, quickly, here are the highlights:
*Carolina had not had a blocked punt, kickoff return, or punt return in the five years Crossman was special teams coach.
*Carolina gave up five special teams touchdowns in that same span, and had five punts blocked in that span.
*Carolina ranked 32nd in kickoff return numbers over the same span.



Crossman was a hard-working, dedicated coach who put tons of time into his craft. But it doesn't appear he's any good at it.

With that said, he also just got hired in Detroit.

Monday, January 18, 2010

WRs coach Richard Williamson Out: Replacements?

Longtime WR coach Richard Williamson has retired, the team has announced.

Williamson, an old-school and gruff assistant, has been with the team since its inaugural year. He's as big a staple on this team as John Kasay - the team's first signee - as Williamson himself was hired before first head coach Dom Capers. Williamson's been here through three head coaches, six offensive coordinators (he himself even took a turn at it, in 2000-01, years he was also assistant head coach), and fifteen years.

He's been the team's WR coach, excluding 2000-01, the entire time. Every playoff game, every major achievement. Two Pro Bowlers, the two penultimate receivers in Panthers history, are his benchmark, and you can't think of Steve Smith or Muhsin Muhammad without Williamson.

His history with Alabama, some of the greats of all time, started his legacy - being coached by, and then coaching under, Bear Bryant. Catching passes from Joe Namath as a player. After a few eventful stops in the league, including head coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a few games in 1990, which earned him the 1991 season before being the next in a long line of fired coaches under bad management.

Now that such a huge hole has opened, the next step is replacing him.

And there's not a lot there to use. Of the assistants not retained:
*Tyke Tolbert (Buffalo) - solid run with the Bills, but raised heads when he almost left for LSU mid-season
*Robert Prince (Seattle) - first year assistant coach, who was a third-tier (assistant WR coach) guy in Jacksonville
*Stan Hoke (Washington) - six years in Washington, without a lot to show for it

The team could pull a college Offensive Coordinator or WRs coach, but the results and options vary - you're pulling from a group of hundreds hoping you find a gem waiting for the jump to the pros in a bad market.

A far-outside shot might be from two guys in the team's past - James Lofton or Gil Haskell.

Haskell, offensive coordinator in 1998-99, was a WRs coach before that with Green Bay; he wasn't fired by the team, but he was allowed to leave and he's seemed to wait for Mike Holmgren to come back. Since he may not, if he's willing, we probably would be, too.

Lofton, a Hall of Fame receiver, was a favorite of the team's, using him as a color commentator on preseason games for years. He was a receivers coach with the Chargers 2002-2007, coaches with the Raiders' trainwreck in 2008, and went back to broadcasting in 2009. He has ties to the team, has received head coaching mentions in the past, and is experienced (with winning teams).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Danny Crossman Fired: Bobby April Unavailable

This Thursday was bittersweet for Panthers fans, and John Fox alike, as Danny Crossman will not be retained.

For Fox, it meant firing a former All-American fullback and safety under him, and a long-time coach. Crossman was around since 2003, over which time we've had change at every position other than RB coach and WR coach (and of course, Fox himself).

For fans, it wasn't bittersweet Crossman himself was let go. They, including myself, had been asking for such a thing for years. The relative unhappiness was over the intended successor - Bobby April - who had signed quietly with Philadelphia the same day. Philadelphia didn't even have an opening until after they signed April, so it was a very shrewd move for the Eagles.

So, with the relative joy that comes from the firing of one of the worst coaches on staff (to be fair, his college cred was very respectable), comes with the problem of replacing him with better.

Immediate names brought up by the media were also-rans:
*Al Everest, who was roundly dressed-down by the somewhat unstable Mike Singletary
*Joe Avezzano, the Christopher Lloyd-looking wild man notably of Dallas' past, who never really seems to coach but sure does look like he has fun yelling
*Bob Ligashesky, who got fired in Pittsburgh this year (honestly, he did have good units at a time)
*Ted Daischer, the guy good enough to get fired for Bobby April

Darin Gantt did suggest a very possible hire: Larry McDuff. He coached with Fox/Skipper in New York, and he was with the UFL last year.

My top two?
Danny Smith, late of Washington, and Bruce Dehaven. Smith has typically had very good coverage units; Dehaven was a long-time Bills assistant scapegoated for the Music City Miracle. Either would be a major upgrade.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Scherer Staying

Rip Scherer has decided to stay on staff with the Carolina Panthers.

Scherer had interviewed with the University of Virginia as their offensive coordinator last week, having been their only candidate. He was offered the position, prompting the eventual decline from Scherer today.

Assumedly, that would leave the entire Panthers coaching staff intact for 2010, barring any surprises.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Scherer Out? Browns' Coaches Staying

Mike Holmgren has stated the entirety of the Browns coaching staff is staying; any convoluted rumors about John Fox being traded away would be ended by that statement.

Jim Mora was fired not long after, leaving a hole in the Seahawks staff; Seattle didn't waste much time, immediately reaching out to USC head coach Pete Carroll, who should be a good fit provided he has the ability to go get a quarterback. The only other job available is the Bills' job, not considered a serious threat to steal Fox away.


So that leaves the Carolina coaching staff essentially untouched, with one possible exception.

Rip Scherer, quarterbacks coach, interviewed and is being offered the offensive coordinator position at the University of Virginia. Scherer wouldn't talk to press, and appeared to be the top candidate before being offered the position; there's no timeline for his decision.

If he leaves, there aren't a lot of options - the team has internal candidate Geep Chryst, the Princeton-educated father of modern statistical analysis in football, who had been a QBs coach and offensive coordinator at the pro level for many years. He's currently the tight ends coach, where the unit has seen three solid years of production.

Other than that, the available coaches are sparse. Turk Schonert was Carolina's QBs coach in 2001, the disastrous year with Chris Weinke and 15 losses in a row. He was fired in September of this year as OC of the Bills. Alex Van Pelt, who was the QBs coach (and then OC when Schonert was fired), is availalble. Neither are shining candidates.

In Seattle, the remaining staff has the ability to stay at this time, so Greg Knapp may return and is likely either a coordinator or QBs coach somewhere. Bill Lazor, the QBs coach, is inexperienced. Washington hasn't employed a QBs coach.

With that in hand, if Scherer did leave, Chryst is the best candidate, and finding a former OL coach to be the TEs coach wouldn't be difficult.



Without exceptional security, some Panthers' coaches did leave last year, including the guy Scherer replaced, Mike McCoy (though it was for a promotion). Some coaches are looking into college jobs, where there definitely won't be work stoppage - the lack of job security, including Fox himself, stems from owner Jerry Richardson's concerns about labor uncertainty. Everyone's under contract through 2010, but not longer.

Jim Skipper typically gets head coach mentions from the college level around this time of year as well. Fans' hopes that Danny Crossman will be hit by space debris have only a moderate chance of happening.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cleveland Rumor; Coaches Drying Up

A few sources (or, more likely, one source) have John Fox being looked at as a possible choice in Cleveland.

For that to happen, Fox would have to want out (he stated on Panthertalk Radio that he looked forward to being here, his only real statement). Cleveland would have to give up compensation, as well.

Mike Holmgren doesn't seem to fit well with Fox, either. At best, the "rumor" stated that Fox would run the defense, and as vice president, Holmgren would "have significant say with the offense."

So, far fetched at best.


In the meantime, other coaches are falling in line and it's only day two of the process. Mike Shanahan's already in Washington, and if Carolina doesn't lose Fox, the only current opening is Buffalo. With Bill Cowher suddenly deciding he likely won't coach in 2010, there aren't a lot of opportunities.

Out of that Buffalo firing, STs coach Bobby April and DC Perry Fewell are solid options for teams looking. As well, it's been noted here many times that Charlie Weis is looking for a team - he looks to have received an offer from Kansas City but may also end up in Chicago.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

John Fox Speculation; Bill Cowher As Well

Carolina hadn't finished talking to the media after the Saints game, but the media already had John Fox out of the Carolinas.

"I would like to just get through this day and see where everything goes with that", Fox stated in his postgame interview, after finishing the season 3-0, 4-1, and 8-5 over those spans.

Peter King was quoted as saying that John Fox "will coach out the 2010 season and looks forward to 2011 free agency."

Other rumors included Fox' agent Bob Lamonte saying that he was trying to get Fox out of his contract, but that seemed far-fetched.

ProFootballTalk.com and other outlets suggest Fox would prefer to leave now and added a few words from Fox's postgame. For now, the only one not openly talking is Fox.



Meanwhile, rumors of Bill Cowher's re-emergence in 2010 suggested he wants to be in Tampa or Carolina; both Tampa and Carolina's staffs have been asked back. That leaves Cleveland possibly, or Buffalo likely, and not much else is expected to be open barring any potential surprises.

Cowher is rumored to be talking to assistants, though all he can talk with would include coaches not under contract at all and front office guys. So, the names associated with Cowher are Chan Gailey (the report actually suggests that Gailey, not Ken Whisenhunt or Russ Grimm, was suggested by Cowher as his replacement) and front office personnel Kevin Colbert and

Carolina wouldn't have a need for Colbert unless Marty Hurney quit; it's been reported in the past that Hurney threatened to quit if Fox was fired. Otherwise, Hurney would inevitably pick the next coach. More on that later.




The team wants Fox to stay, and it's hard to say that Cowher is the better fit. Better coach? Possibly, but at twice the price. And with an exotic defense that requires exotic players we don't have - all the while as we're playing good defense with what we have.

If Fox did leave, Hurney and owner Jerry Richardson wouldn't be that inclined to go with the bigtime choice - if they had a veteran coach, they have one in Fox. The more likely situation is a promotion from within - for instance, hiring Ron Meeks and hiring a defensive coordinator, trying to protect the other coaches.




It's hard to say what will happen - with Fox getting the green light to stay, he has the leverage. The team can't force any changes, and they can't have Fox in a position of wanting to stay any greater than other opportunities (you'd fight for a job you might lose, in other words, but you might leave a job otherwise).

But, Fox can demand things to stay:
- a new contract or else?
- force changes for the front office
- force changes he wants for his staff, like shoe-horning Charlie Weis in
- force changes in personnel, like Peppers or Delhomme

And, those things aren't guaranteed ways to keep a job. So would Hurney hire from within or outside? If outside, it'd likely not be a Cowher, but a coach who'd do well with what's already there. A young coordinator.

Former Panthers' First Pick

Carolina's first rounder, sent to the 49ers, has almost been determined. The pick will be the 16th or 17th, or possibly 18th if the Jets lose.

Carolina selected Everette Brown with the pick, the 43rd, and added RB/KR Mike Goodson with a 4th added in the deal.

Saints Postgame

Carolina 23-Saints 10.

This was over before the Saints could draw their guns, not that they were packing much heat.

Jonathan Stewart needed 94 yards to make it to 1100 yards - and he got 67 of them on the second play from scrimmage. He went on to have 16 for 125 and the TD, and hit the 1100 yard, 10 TD mark. He and Deangelo Williams both had 1100 yards, the first duo to do so since the AFL/NFL merger.
Muhsin Muhammad took over for Steve Smith (out, IR/arm) catching 7 of 10 for 85 yards.
Dwayne Jarrett caught all 5 of his balls, for 68 and a score. Only four of the eight receivers targeted caught balls. Matt Moore finished 14-
Defensively:
Na'il Diggs' numerous open field plays led to 9 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a special teams tackle.
Jon Beason was all over the field with 8 tackles, and a TFL.
Marshall had 6 tackles, a PD, and a fumble recovery.
Chris Gamble had 4 tackles and 2 PD, though one should've been an INT.
Tyler Brayton had 4 tackles and a TFL.
Peppers had 3 tackles to go with his INT.
Everette Brown had a pair of QB hurries and a TFL.
Dante Wesley had one of the more bizarre stat lines, with a tackle, a QB hurry, and a special teams fumble recovery.


From there, Carolina battled poor field position and the Saints battled Mark Brunell being rusty. The score was 7-0 through most of the half before the Saints stalled a drive at the Carolina 17, kicking a field goal; right after, Carolina took on their strongest drive of the day, a 2- minute drive led by Muhammad's 4 catches, and Dwayne Jarrett had two, including a 30 yard touchdown (his first as a Panther).

On the ensuing drive, Carolina squib kicked to the Saints, fumbled by Courtney Roby (with thanks to Sherrod Martin) and picked up by Dante Wesley. With :05 left in the half at that point, Carolina took the easy 3 to take it into the half 17-3.

Coming off the half, a few stalled drives back and forth led the Saints back to their own 1. On the ensuing punt, Captain Munnerlyn brought it back to the Saints' 25; they kicked a field goal after three more plays.

Two plays into the next Saints drive, Charles Godfrey popped the ball out on a slant, with Richard Marshall falling on it at the New Orleans 27. Three Mike Goodson runs later, Carolina kicked yet another field goal, to lead 23-3.

Following that, the Saints finally engineered a scoring drive, going 64 yards in 11 plays for a Hamilton rushing TD. The drive had stalled but was kept alive by a questionable call on a deep pass to Meachem, which was called as unnecessary roughness for pulling him to the ground "roughly".

That was the end of the 3rd quarter, and the two teams essentially ran the 4th quarter out. The lone highlight: Julius Peppers' 2nd INT of the year. He picked off a Brunell screen ball to effectively close out the game.

It was a dominant performance against the Saints' backups. Not as convincing a win as the last two, but still finishing 3-0, 4-1, and 8-5.


And so ends the 2009 Carolina Panthers. It's been a ridiculous year - in like a lamb, out like a lion (metaphorically, moreso than the team that drafted Matt Stafford). More reflections on the season later.

Raheem Morris Staying

Despite rumors about Bill Cowher in Tampa, looks like Raheem Morris and staff will stay.

Morris, a first year coach, was abruptly promoted to head coach days after becoming the defensive coordinator in the wake of the Bruce Allen/Jon Gruden shakeup. Since then, he's fired an offensive coordinator (bad choice Jeff Jagodzinski) in preseason, fired a defensive coordinator (Jim Bates) in the middle of the season, and changed schemes.

Moving forward, they'll need a Tampa-2 defensive coordinator, as they played much better than in Bates' 3-deep scheme. Bates is still a fine coordinator, but the fit was obviously poor. They'll also likely need a seasoned QBs coach - or move Steve Logan over - as Greg Olson is handling both this role and the coordinator role.

So, Cowher's not an option, and probably a pipedream in Carolina anyway. My guess is the cake job with the huge cash payday isn't going to come, and Cowher will magically not want to return this year after all. But, expecting the jackpot from either job would be unrealistic.

Saints Preview

It's hard to say at this point what will happen with the Saints this week.

First, Saints coach Sean Payton said the following:

"It's important for us to play well this week. We have to find the corrections and ... view it as an opportunity for us to get things corrected before it becomes a more important game."

Then Drew Brees is being benched, "because of the Panthers' pass rush" in Payton's words. Then, it was announced that fellow starters safety Darren Sharper, tight end David Thomas, tailback Pierre Thomas, receiver Lance Moore, and safety Usama Young are not expected to play because of injuries.

And, the Saints cut Reggie McKenzie, former Saint and Packer CB who they'd picked up down the stretch this year. The Saints suggest they may pick him up again later, which might suggest it's a cheap way to give the vet a week off (and the team doesn't have to pay him since he wasn't there opening day).

So, who'll play? Looks like the OL and DL will play, and that Mark Brunell will be the QB. Chase Daniel, the QB they promoted from the practice squad for McKenzie, will be the #2. Mike Bell is the RB. And Jeremy Shockey will probably play, if only because he's missed so many games already.

The rest will be there - the big receivers, Reggie Bush as a change of pace, most of the defense.

Matt Moore can expect blitzes, but Carolina's OL has been good. There'll also be a reluctance to show a bunch of weaknesses in the deep game, so they'll probably shade deep on most plays.

New Orleans is 24th on defense, 22nd against the run and 28th against the pass (though 2nd in both scoring and INTs). Teams score on New Orleans running, obviously a key point with Carolina's rushing attack and the Saints' Sedrick Ellis out.

Carolina put up almost 400 yards of offense against the Saints last time, just short of 200 in each run and pass. Deangelo Williams got most of the carries last time, 149 and 2 TDs. Steve Smith had 4 catches for 64 yards, with Muhsin Muhammad out. This game it will be the opposite for both sides - Jonathan Stewart will be the back, Williams is likely out; Muhammad will play and Smith is definitely out. Carolina hasn't mentioned a starter opposite Muhammad; Jarrett was the other starter against NO last time, but he's been benched the last few weeks.

Tyrell Sutton's first action came against NO, and he should be the backup this week. He and Brad Hoover should be able to help work the middle. Carolina obviously brings a larger OL to the table, and that's only helped keep the running game sharper than before.

Gary Barnidge's first meaningful time came against NO, and he responded with 3 catches for 46 yards. The team should be able to work Barnidge up the middle and on the sidelines without Smith as a deep threat, and with Sharper out in the defensive backfield. Dante Rosario should be able to work the underneath routes as well.

Saints are still the #1 offense in the league, 5th in rush and 3rd in pass (the pass stat startling with them 18th in pass attempts). They'll lack punch without Brees, and will probably pass a lot more horizontal with Brunell. It's hard to say what sort of arm Brunell has left, but he's still crafty. There'll also be plenty of slants (New Orleans' biggest plays were slants on bad tackling, odd since the Panthers did such a good job overall in tackling and coverage).

They'll probably rely on the running game, to hit Carolina at a larger weakness, but the Saints have had problems bunching up lately with the running game. Without Thomas, they'll be much more predictable in usage - Bell is slow to the corner and Bush is obviously going to work the corner, the draw, or the pass.

It's hard to say how the starters that'll be left will fare. Carolina may become aggressive with their playcalling to put the Saints out of the game early. It's impossible to really predict any sort of outcome in a game this bizarre - I don't think I've seen this much drama in a late season Carolina game in years, given the lack of implications.

But, it'll be nice to see the season end on a high note, if at all possible.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Weis A Factor In Fox's Future?

Put me down as someone who doesn't think John Fox is going anywhere. I think any possible hype over what Fox may do - ranging from the idea of him going to become the defensive coordinator of the Giants to walking so he can coach Buffalo - are terrible ideas. The most logical situation for him is to stay.


Still, this situation has legs, and people are dreaming it out. Some think Fox will leave because he wants to go, some just want him to go. Others fear he'll go.

If he does, the sway of Charlie Weis might help. Weis can't come to Carolina - I don't think Jerry Richardson would pay additional money for another bigtime assistant. For him to come, you'd have to fire close Weis associate Jeff Davidson, or find room for both otherwise without slighting either.

But, if Fox leaves, he has an out. Weis is immediately hired, as both would want. If Davidson's not retained, he gets them both. Add in Jim Skipper, and Fox has all the offensive guys he could realistically ask for.

So, if he actually does want to leave, this scenario is quite possibly how it'd play out.

Conversely, he has little sway over what he could get on defense, since most of it's new. Only third-tier assistant Mike Gilhamer is a loyal Fox guy. Fox may have hired the others, but they're all new and they all have an equal loyalty to Ron Meeks, who would have a shot at a promotion (which could at least keep him aboard long enough to ensure he's better off to stay). If one of the coordinators, or Skipper, were offered the head coaching job, they'd be likely to take it; Skipper makes the most sense, as it keeps assistants where they are other than him and keeps the staff relatively intact.


Either way, I'm securely in the camp hoping all stays the same, with hopeful exception to the retention of Danny Crossman or possible addition of Weis. I've heard rumors suggesting that Nick Goings may be a consideration to help on the special teams line in the future, and they could use his help.