Panthers owner eyes future|Plans to hold on to the No. 1 pick

Published 5:13 pm Wednesday, January 5, 2011

By By MIKE CRANSTON, AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTE — The Carolina Panthers plan to hold onto the No. 1 pick in the draft for the chance to take Andrew Luck, and are leaning toward hiring an NFL assistant coach to replace John Fox.
Owner Jerry Richardson said Tuesday that Fox’s inability to post consecutive winning seasons is why he’s out after nine years. Richardson also acknowledged he considered letting Fox go a year ago, but let him coach the final year of his contract because cutting him loose would have cost $11.4 million in salary due to his entire staff.
‘‘I would’ve paid $11,441,000 and then had to hire a new coaching staff,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘You know we are running a business here. And people don’t like to see their ticket prices go up.’’
Richardson raised ticket prices this season anyway, one of several odd statements made by the 74-year-old Richardson in his first full news conference in nine years.
A survivor of a heart transplant nearly two years ago, Richardson rambled about being unable to retrieve cell phone messages before stopping in mid-sentence to ask the name of a woman reporter in the crowd. Richardson later asked another woman television anchor to move into the front row and was combative with other reporters.
‘‘If you were writing the check, would you extend someone’s contract that you were not sure was going to be able to produce the result you were looking for?’’ Richardson said when asked about Fox. ‘‘I’m asking you.’’
After a long pause, the reporter said no and Richardson replied, ‘‘I didn’t either.’’
Now after slashing payroll in a youth movement that resulted in the NFL’s worst team. Richardson has entrusted general manager Marty Hurney with finding a new coach who will be ‘‘compatible to the organization.’’
Richardson made a point to say reports they’ve contacted Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh are false and the team is eyeing an NFL assistant.
‘‘I think most of the playoffs teams have hired assistant coaches that have become head coaches,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘I’m not sure of that, but I think that’s probably the case. I happen to know that’s the case with the Pittsburgh Steelers.’’
The Panthers have asked and received permission to talk to New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey on Tuesday said Carolina hasn’t contacted him.
‘‘The last time we went through this, we went through the assistant ranks,’’ said Hurney, who declined to reveal candidates. ‘‘We got somebody that fit our organization. I think that’s very important, to find somebody that fits the philosophies of this organization and how we do things as well as the qualities of a head coach.’’
Hurney was back in Charlotte on Tuesday after watching Luck throw for 287 yards and four touchdowns in Stanford’s 40-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl a night earlier.
Luck, a redshirt sophomore, has until Jan. 15 to decide whether to leave school early. The Panthers desperately need help at quarterback after Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen’s struggles leading the NFL’s worst offense.
‘‘We’re looking for someone that can be a topflight player and hopefully make us a better team,’’ said Richardson, dismissing talk they might trade down. ‘‘And I have no doubt if you have the first pick, we’re likely to do that.’’
Luck would join one of the NFL’s youngest teams. With Richardson’s blessing, Hurney got rid of numerous veterans last offseason and replaced almost all of them with young, inexperienced players. It caused some clashes with Fox, known to rely on veterans.
‘‘We have a history of a coaching staff that was going to play the veteran players,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘In my simple brain, the best way I could have assured the young players were to get to play is that they would have to play. I think they did very well.’’
Those youngsters led Carolina to two wins, but Richardson said he’s as ‘‘enthusiastic as I’ve ever been’’ about the future of the franchise. Saying he owns 48 percent of the team, he sidestepped questions about the club’s future after he fired his two sons from top jobs with the team in 2009.
‘‘First, I’ve probably got a younger heart than you do,’’ Richardson told a reporter. ‘‘And I’m probably going to be here longer than maybe you think I am. I’m going to take it one step at a time. I intend to own the team as long as I live.’’