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Fox thinks he’ll be back; Panthers’ owner remains silent

By By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE — A day after Carolina finished out of the playoffs for the second straight year, John Fox remained confident that he’ll return as the Panthers’ coach.
But speculation about Fox’s status won’t end until owner Jerry Richardson makes his decision public.
When asked Monday if Richardson would finally address the status of Fox and general manager Marty Hurney, team spokesman Charlie Dayton said it was unlikely.
In an e-mail later Monday, Dayton would only say that ‘‘nothing has changed’’ regarding Fox and Hurney.
It meant a day of uncertainty at Bank of America Stadium as players gathered for final physicals and a team meeting before leaving with their belongings for the offseason. Not only do many players worry if they’ll be back after a disappointing 7-9 campaign that’s sure to bring many changes, they don’t know about their coach.
Later in the morning, an evasive Fox indicated he expects to return for a seventh season.
The speculation has been fueled by a second straight sub-par season and Richardson’s refusal to address the situation.
The NFL Network reported during Carolina’s loss to Dallas on Dec. 22 that Richardson said in an off-camera interview that Fox and Hurney’s jobs were safe. But team officials declined to confirm the report, and Richardson wasn’t talking again on Monday.
When Fox was asked Monday if Richardson has told him he’ll be retained, he referred to how he answered the same question after Sunday’s 31-23 win over Tampa Bay. When asked if that meant he wasn’t commenting, Fox replied, ‘‘That is what I said yesterday.’’
Following a season of unfilled expectations and injuries, Fox has pinned much of the blame for Carolina’s second straight non-winning campaign on the loss of quarterback Jake Delhomme. He had a season-ending right elbow injury in Week 3.
The Panthers then turned to David Carr, who was Carolina’s only major offseason acquisition. Despite his two-year, $6 million deal, Carr was a bust. He got hurt and then was so ineffective, the Panthers turned to 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde and undrafted rookie Matt Moore to finish the season.
Behind Moore, the Panthers did rally to win two of their last three games. Perhaps that was enough for Fox, who is 56-49 in Carolina with one Super Bowl appearance and a trip to the NFC championship game in 2005, to keep his job.
Hurney has also said he plans to be back next season. Fox said they’ll begin a series of meetings on Wednesday to evaluate the season and prepare for free agency.
It was also clear on Monday that Fox has the support of his players.
The Panthers have plenty to work on. Delhomme said his rehabilitation remains on schedule and he hopes to start throwing by the middle of February. Whether he can effectively return from reconstructive surgery may determine Carolina’s fortunes.
The Panthers must also decide whether to pay big money to re-sign unrestricted free agent tackle Jordan Gross and whether to give defensive end Julius Peppers, coming off a hugely disappointing season, a mega deal.
Defensive end Mike Rucker will likely retire, although he again wasn’t saying for sure on Monday.
But Rucker was adamant that Fox should be back next season.