FOR A GUY WHO HAD just won his third straight game, avoided a losing season and is assured of being paid about $6 million in 2010, John Fox sure looked angry Sunday afternoon.
Why? Who knows? But I'll take a guess. Fox, whose team finished an 8-8 season by whipping the New Orleans Saints 23-10 on Sunday, sounded like a coach who doesn't think he is getting enough respect.
Never mind that the Panthers aren't going to fire him, according to Observer sources - or that they shouldn't.
As I wrote a week ago, Fox deserves another year here. He's done enough for that.
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But if I were Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, I wouldn't give Fox a contract extension right now, either. Fox has never had consecutive winning seasons and has made the playoffs three times in eight seasons. He's not exactly Don Shula.
As for Fox, it appears he isn't too thrilled with the idea that he likely will go into 2010 here in the final year of his contract. It sounds like his agent might even be scouting out his options, although it's hard to tell.
Fox sounded by turns coy, annoyed and just plain hacked off Sunday when reporters had the nerve to ask about the biggest offseason situation currently facing the Panthers: Fox's future.
And no matter how many opportunities the prickly-pear coach was given, he never said something nice in front of the cameras like.
Instead, there was frost in Fox's voice that matched Sunday's temperatures. Listen to these news conference exchanges during the terse two minutes devoted to Fox's coaching future.
Reporter: Do you want to be back next year?
Fox: You know, again, I'm not really totally done with today. Like every offseason, there are evaluations and things you look at. I usually talk to my family and see where all of that goes. We are just getting started with that, so I can't really comment at this point.
Reporter: Where do you understand your contractual situation is now?
Fox: I have a year left on my contract. I haven't really had any postseason conversations yet. I have an agent who handles those things.
Reporter: Are you willing to go into next year with one year left on your contract?
Fox: Again, much past today - I'd like to get through this day and we'll see where everything goes after that.
Does that sound like a coach who can't wait to coach the Panthers again? No. It sounds to me like a coach who is seriously weighing his options. And if you had been in the room, you would have heard the anger in Fox's voice even more clearly.
If another NFL team wanted to hire Fox out from under Carolina's nose (what if the New York Giants fired Tom Coughlin?), that'd be very difficult. Fox is under contract for another season, after all. Draft-pick compensation would be involved.
Maybe the Panthers could get back that first round pick in 2010 that they used to get Everette Brown. Maybe more. Richardson is going to play hardball on this one - we all know that.
Ultimately, though, I'd be surprised if this doesn't get worked out. Any NFL team that Fox might want to jump to would have less talent than this Panthers' squad, which outscored its past three opponents by a staggering 90-26. If he stays as a lame duck and the Panthers lose, he's well-regarded enough he could be a top free agent and pick up another head coaching job in 2011.
And the Panthers and Fox have both been loyal to each other through the years. That should count for something.
Still, Fox's future is currently in play despite the Panthers not firing him, and that's very interesting. It will become even more so as head coaches around the league start getting fired today, on what is traditionally known as "Black Monday" in the NFL.
"Coach Fox has the right to do whatever he wants to do," fullback Brad Hoover said. "As a player, I want him here. Most of the guys in this locker room want him here."
But does Fox really want to be here?
Is $6 million for one more season - but no new contract - showing the man enough respect?
Of course it is.
And Fox better realize that soon.