CHARLOTTE - While Carolina Panthers coach John Fox deflected questions about his future on Wednesday, several of his players and a rival coach were not shy in defending him.
It was part of a bizarre day as Fox acknowledged his contract has not been extended, yet did not want to discuss perhaps entering 2010 as a lame duck coach in the final year of his deal.
"I don't get into that right now," said Fox, 75-60 in Carolina with a Super Bowl appearance. "Our focus is to get through the season and I have an agent that deals with that."
While agent Bob LaMonte did not return messages Wednesday, Panthers defensive tackle Damione Lewis, center Ryan Kalil and even New Orleans coach Sean Payton came to Fox's defense. The Panthers (7-8) enter Sunday's season finale against the Saints (13-2) ensured of missing the playoffs for the fifth time in Fox's eight seasons.
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"I know this, he and his staff aren't going to have problems finding work. Let's just say that," said Payton, a longtime friend of Fox. "I think he has a lot of confidence in that team and I think the team, the same way, has confidence in that coaching staff.
"It's evident by the way they played against Minnesota and the way they played against New York. If it's not Carolina, maybe a week goes by and he'll be in good shape."
The Panthers have won three of their past four games, including upsets against the Vikings and Giants the past two weeks, ending the possibility of Carolina having its first season of 10 or more losses under Fox. The wins came despite numerous injuries, and were apparently enough that owner Jerry Richardson decided against firing Fox with a year and more than $6 million left on his deal.
"He's done a great job," Lewis said. "I think the guys on this team really rally around him."
The Charlotte Observer reported Monday that Richardson will not extend the contracts of Fox, his assistants or general manager Marty Hurney past next season. Richardson, who has not spoken to reporters in more than a year, remained silent on Wednesday. Fox bristled when asked if he had talked to Richardson.
"I am speaking English, right?" Fox replied, referring to his earlier declaration that he would not answer more questions on the subject.
Fox's future has been a hot topic because of Carolina's disappointing season and the number of big-name coaches out of work.
"I hear around town everybody calling for (Bill) Cowher," said Kalil, referring to the former Pittsburgh coach who lives three hours away in Raleigh. "Everybody wants Cowher to come. Cowher is an awesome coach. I'd love to play for somebody like Cowher, but what's he going to do differently from Fox? He's going to play good defense and he's going to want to run the football. I mean, what are we exactly talking about here?"
Muhammad: Sunday won't be my last game. Muhsin Muhammad is 36 and in the final year of his contract. Yet the Panthers starting receiver vowed Sunday's season finale against New Orleans will not mark the end of his career. A two-time Pro Bowler and known as one of the NFL's top blocking receivers, Muhammad has 46 catches for 496 yards.