Panthers’ defensive coordinator leaves team

Published 11:36 pm Friday, January 23, 2009

By By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE — Defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac joined Carolina’s mass exodus of assistant coaches Thursday, turning down a contract offer to remain on coach John Fox’s dwindling staff.
Trgovac’s surprising departure came the same day secondary coach Tim Lewis accepted a similar position with the Seattle Seahawks. Fox has lost five assistants since the Panthers’ upset playoff loss to Arizona on Jan. 10.
Trgovac informed Fox and general manager Marty Hurney of his decision at Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala.
Trgovac, who had just finished his seventh season with the team, could not be reached. His decision comes less than week after star defensive end and impending free agent Julius Peppers announced he didn’t want to return to the team next season.
Peppers’ position coach, Sal Sunseri, also left this week for Alabama after seven seasons with the Panthers.
The other departures were for clear promotions. Linebackers coach Ken Flajole left after six seasons in Carolina to become defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams. Quarterbacks coach Mike McCoy, who had spent nine seasons with the Panthers, was hired as the Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator.
All the assistant coaches were working under contracts that expired after this season. The team is trying to secure new deals with the rest of the staff, including offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson.
The Panthers finalized one replacement Thursday, hiring former Cleveland Browns quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer to take McCoy’s spot. Scherer will be reunited with Davidson, a former Browns assistant.
Trgovac joined Fox’s staff in 2002 as defensive line coach and was promoted to defensive coordinator a year later, when Jack Del $RXJLhhFBFPhPJBFVf 1/4lRXXJBNjBrs.
The Panthers struggled on defense late this season, giving up 30 or more points in six of their last seven games, including a 33-13 home playoff loss to the Cardinals that came on the heels of a 12-4 regular season.
Fox, a former defensive coordinator with the New York Giants, had given Trgovac strong public support and the two sides had discussed a two-year contract extension this week.
It’s unclear how Fox will replace Trgovac, and whether that decision might make Peppers reconsider his decision to want out.
The Panthers could still place the franchise tag on Peppers, which would virtually guarantee he’d stay at Carolina in a one-year deal worth about $16.7 million. That would also allow the Panthers to trade him.
Peppers’ agent, Carl Carey has said Peppers, who had a career-high 14 1/2 sacks this season and made his fourth Pro Bowl, was looking to play in a different defensive system so that he could ‘‘reach his full potential.’’
Carey did not return a phone message Thursday seeking comment.