Ugly start signals end of the Fox era

I think John Fox has coached his last big game for Carolina.

I think that when the season ends the great purge will begin. I think Fox and Julius Peppers will be caught up in it. I think that in 2010, which will be better known as Year One of the No Salary Cap Era, the Panthers will look like Denver and Tampa Bay do this season. They'll start over.

I qualify my opinions with I think because I am not aware of an NFL team ever being eliminated in September. The Panthers could beat Washington, Tampa Bay and Buffalo to even their record at 3-3.

But when the weather turns brisk the schedule turns nasty. Carolina plays at Arizona, New Orleans, the New York Jets, New England and the New York Giants and at home against Atlanta, Minnesota and New Orleans.

If you saw anything in Monday's stomach-turning 21-7 loss to Dallas that suggests the Panthers have the potential to go on a legendary tear and win back angry fans, let me know.

Carolina's performance was one of its most frustrating, and I have seen, one way or another, almost every game the team has played.

The Panthers were uninspired, undisciplined and unadventurous. The Cowboys came out skittish and ready to be taken. The Panthers refused to take them. The second half looked like a lowlight reel, a collection of bad plays from seasons past.

I have a graceful greyhound that is tall and fast and perpetually lopes behind whatever is going on. If he didn't have a name, I'd suggest Julius.

One of the qualities to which fans are entitled is hope. Give them one reason to keep investing their money and their emotion, one reason to believe that help is on the way. The Panthers have not offered one, not in three games.

Yet, if Carolina can salvage the season, and by salvage I mean win nine of its final 13 games, I hereby cancel the purge.

I want the purge canceled, and I might be in the minority. Many of the readers I run into or who call or send me e-mail wanted Fox canned after the Arizona playoff loss. Of course, if these readers were held to the same standards they hold Fox, unemployment in the Carolinas would hover at 97 percent.

I like Fox and respect his work. He is 63-52 in the regular season, 5-3 in the playoffs and has been to the Super Bowl and the NFC Championship. He took over a team that went 1-15 in 2001 and gave it credibility and six additional victories.

Continuity is always preferable. The teams that constantly start over almost never win, as the Washington Redskins will attest.

Unfortunately, coaches-like cars, knees and relationships-wear out. Based on Monday's sloppy penalties, late hits, lack of creativity and shocking listlessness, the Panthers have stopped listening to Fox.

Fans regularly suggest replacements, and the suggestions don't vary.

They want former Pittsburgh coach 'Saint' Bill Cowher.

St. Bill coached 15 seasons and won one Super Bowl and played in two. After a quick start, he went: 7-9, 6-10, 9-7, 13-3, 10-5-1, 6-10, 15-1, 11-5 and 8-8. Little known fact: Until St. Bill won the Super Bowl after the 2005 season, Pittsburgh fans had tired of him, too.

They want former Oakland and Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden, whom Fox regularly defeated and who was fired by the Buccaneers after the 2008 season. Gruden did win in Oakland, however. That's like Steve Spurrier winning at Duke.

Former Denver coach Mike Shanahan is another coach many crave. But he was fired by Pat Bowlen, a good friend of Richardson's. And Shanahan's ego is such that he could play wide receiver.

I admit that St. Cowher has appeal. But hiring a retread is as predictable as running a draw play on third and long.

I prefer the Pittsburgh model. The Steelers have had great success identifying and hiring the young man they believe will be the next great coach-Chuck Noll, who was 37, Cowher, who was 35, and Mike Tomlin, who was 35.

Barring a miracle comeback, this is my advice for the Panthers. (A) Fire Fox; (B) Hire the league's next great coach; (C) Hope the team that installs Fox as its coach next season is in the AFC so the Panthers play it less frequently.