Right coach for Panthers? Might be Fox

THERE ARE MANY problems with Carolina Panthers coach John Fox. We know what he can't do. Also, he lost at home to Buffalo.

But his biggest problem is that he is not exciting. Change is exciting. New is exciting. Bill Cowher is exciting.

Fans have been salivating about the possibility of the former Pittsburgh coach replacing Fox. Cowher won, what, seven Super Bowls in his 16 seasons with the Steelers? No, he won one, in his next-to-last season. But still.

Instead, the Panthers have offered to honor the last season of Fox's contract. Yet the offer probably has more to do with the possibility of a lockout after the 2010 season than with Fox's body of work.

With one more season of football guaranteed, teams will tend to spend conservatively. Most of their employees don't make their livings with a whistle or a helmet. Even if the NFL is not generating revenue, a franchise still will want to take care of them. Should it, then, fling money at a new coach simply to excite fans?

If the guy opens the season 1-4, how long will that excitement last?

I know your reasons for wanting to jettison Fox.

He has yet to win a Super Bowl. He never has been called Air Fox. His offensive game plans are as conservative as FOX's news commentators. His news conferences are so boring that he makes New England coach Bill Belichick sound like a stand-up comedian. (Spy walks into a bar ... )

But let's give Fox this: He always gives the Panthers a reason to fear letting him go.

As the season winds down, Carolina appears to be held together by duct tape and barbed wire. Geoff Schwartz?

Yet, the Panthers pounded the playoff-bound Minnesota Vikings nine days ago at home and dominated the New York Giants two days ago in New Jersey.

When some teams forfeit their playoff aspirations, they demonstrate their contempt for the coach by not trying.

If the Panthers did not believe in Fox, they couldn't have won as underdogs, not this late in the season against teams that theoretically craved a victory much more than they did.

Fox is loyal to his players, and many of you represent this. A question: When the economy went bad, was your employer loyal to you? If not, do you wish he or she had been? Shouldn't loyalty be respected? Or do you respect it only when it applies to you? Loyalty is one of the reasons Fox's players have not abandoned him.

We all know Carolina owner Jerry Richardson is a fan of the Rooney family and the Steelers. This is why many of you expected Richardson to hire Cowher.

I didn't. When the Steelers hired Cowher, he was 34, his predecessor, Chuck Noll, 37, and his successor, Mike Tomlin, 35. If Richardson stuck to the Pittsburgh model, he would have hired the next great coach, not the retired coach who was good.

But Noll coached 23 seasons before he quit and Cowher 16. So the Pittsburgh model is this: If you believe you have the right coach, hang onto him.

Perhaps the Panthers have.