Some troubled franchises can't wait to put the 2010 season behind them, but few will hang a 2011 calendar with more uncertainty at a couple of the most important positions within the organization than the Panthers. At the very least, they'll have a new head coach and probably a new starting quarterback before next season.
Carolina has scuffled through injuries to key starters and putrid play from rookie QB Jimmy Clausen on its way to a 2-13 record in head coach John Fox's contract year. It's well known that Fox will head elsewhere after the season, and he will leave the Panthers with a nice parting gift — the first pick in next year's draft, which Carolina secured in Week 16 with a loss and a surprise Bengals victory.
Owner Jerry Richardson played a leading role in putting the Panthers in this situation by not spending money on free agents and letting DE Julius Peppers go without getting any compensation for him last offseason.
It came as no surprise that the Panthers were not on the short list of desired destinations that someone close to Bill Cowher made public. Richardson may be hesitant to give complete personnel authority to a big name that will be seeking such power with Marty Hurney entrenched as the team's general manager.
Carolina is going to be an attractive destination for some quality candidates, though, and the vacancy probably will be filled by a highly regarded assistant looking to break into the head-coaching ranks for the first time, just like Fox was before the Panthers hired him in '02.
It has been rumored that Carolina has interest in Russ Grimm, the Cardinals' assistant head coach. It would be no surprise if Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who oversees the league's top-ranked defense, gets an interview and serious consideration for the job, too.
The failure to land a household name at head coach wouldn't doom the Panthers to many seasons of misery. It took the Buccaneers only one year to turn things around with little-known Raheem Morris manning the sideline and Josh Freeman under center.
But if Richardson, Hurney and whomever he hires as his next head coach don't make sound decisions in the coming months, the Panthers' rebuilding process could last much longer than Tampa Bay's did.
This column was originally published in the current print edition of Pro Football Weekly, dated Jan. 2, 2011, which also includes feature stories on Defensive Player of the Year candidate and Steelers OLB James Harrison and how a group of proven veterans hope to lead the Jets' quest for playoff glory, as well as previews of all Week 17 games, columnists and insights into the upcoming NFL draft, handicapping and fantasy football. The Pro Football Weekly print edition is on sale at retail outlets across the country and at PFWstore.com, where you can purchase either the print or electronic (PDF) version of this issue.