Three weeks ago the Carolina Panthers fired General Manager Marty Hurney. They could just have easily made the move after the 2010 season. It was then that the Panthers moved on from longtime coach John Fox. Today the best coach in Panther history returns to Charlotte as the head man in Denver. Fox guides a 5-3 division leading Bronco squad that won a playoff game last year into Charlotte. The Panthers are 2-6 and have gone 8-16 since Fox was told he could seek employment elsewhere.
In 2002 Hurney took over a Panther organization that had been run first by Bill Polian and then by George Seifert. That tandem combined to go 51-66. Hurney hired Fox shortly after taking the job. In their first two years together the duo improved on a 1-15 record in Seifert's final season to 7-9 in their first campaign and a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to New England in year two.
It was those Panther teams of Fox and coordinators Dan Henning and Jack Del Rio that fans both loved and hated. The public loved winning, but hated a run based attack that relied on the defense and was never afraid to punt. Perhaps there is no greater accomplishment than building a team good enough to have Jake Delhomme on the cusp of a championship.
When the Panthers followed up a 12-4 season in 2008 with an 8-8 mark in 2009 Carolina fans were eager to see what 2010 would bring. When the team limped to a 2-14 record Fox was scapegoated and replaced with Ron Rivera.
Fox and Hurney combined to go 73-71 with an NFC title, two conference championship game births, and three playoff appearances. When Fox was let go very few people in the community expressed disappointment or surprise.
Now the page has been turned. After a decade with significant success despite Rodney Peete, Delhomme, Jimmy Clausen and most recently Tim Tebow leading his offense, Fox has Peyton Manning and another playoff berth is likely. Baring a second half that does not resemble the first, Rivera will be looking for a job in January and fans will wonder whether Cam Newton's exciting yet unsuccessful first year will ever lead to more wins.
Denver has won three straight and likely will play just one more playoff caliber opponent the remainder of the regular season. After dropping five straight, the Panthers won at Washington 21-13 last Sunday.