Thursday, January 22, 2009

OK, so who is left?

You have likely noticed that I haven't anchored this week due to the NASCAR media tour (more on that in a minute), but what in the heck is up with the Panther coaching staff? Who's left?

Let's see:
Defensive Coordinator Mike Trgovac. Gone
D-Line coach Sal Sunseri. Gone
Linebackers coach Ken Flajole. Gone
QB coach Mike McCoy. Gone
DB coach Tim Lewis. Gone


Mind you, Flajole and McCoy took coordinator jobs (Flajole in St. Louis with the defense, and McCoy the OC job in Denver), which are upward moves. Sunseri went back to college to work alongside Nick Saban at Alabama--he aspires to be a collegiate head coach someday. Lewis made a lateral move, taking basically the same role with Seattle.

Trgovac is a bit of a mystery, as the Panthers were talking contract, and he turned them down to "pursue other interests." What other interests? Stamp collecting? A karaoke business?

In years past, Panther assistants haven't been allowed to interview for other positions (as I have been told by some of my media friends who cover the team regularly). Apparently, the door was opened for them to look around, and as it stands, virtually the entire defensive coaching staff is gone. Why the mass exodus?

If this has any relation to the Julius Peppers desires to go elsewhere to be "challenged" more, then the Panthers have basically given in to his wishes. The Panthers are not likely to change their defensive philosophy of a 4-3 defense to placate Peppers. Now, the team has to find an entirely new defensive coaching staff and try to improve a defense that, through much of the year, was in the top 10 in the league in most categories. Their 2nd half left something to be desired, as yards piled up, as did points. Still, Carolina finished 12-4, thanks to an offense that hit its stride.

Personally, I hope this isn't an orchestrated show of "Stay Julius." One player does not a football team make. It's the collection of players. Offense. Defense. Special teams. All of them. Peppers had a monster year, and will be paid for it. Too much has been said, by the Peppers camp, to make it seem that he'll be in a Panthers uniform in 2009. I wouldn't be shocked if he withdraws from the Pro Bowl to: A) not get hurt, and B) not represent the Panthers.

Maybe I am wrong about that. Maybe the Panthers have the strength to take the slap from Peppers and his agent, and work out a deal to keep him. Right now, in my eyes, he's trying to be bigger than the team. that sort of thing doesn't fly, nor should it, for a Jerry Richardson owned ballclub. Richardson is the epitome of family and team. Hard to bring back a person who has openly questioned what the family has done in the past, and would do going forward.

We'll keep watching to see how this plays out, but the calendar is inching closer to the time the Panthers will be forced to do something.

NASCAR season is almost here. Folks that complain about NBA and NHL seasons being too long should reassess that thought. Nascar goes from mid-February through mid-November. 2 and a half months of down time. That's it. It all kicked off with the Sprint media Tour hosted by Lowe's Motor Speedway this week, and Tim Baier and I went through the 4 days of interview sessions, and video opportunities. Loads of those materials are available on our website and will also be on Carolina On Demand (channel 1234 on your digital cable).

Running themes for the week: the sour economy and the lack of testing at NASCAR sanctioned tracks. Had good chats with Tony Stewart, Rick Hendrick, Dale Jr., and tons more. Be on the lookout for those interviews, and stories in the weeks leading up to Daytona. Apologies for not snapping off a few pictures--I regretted not having the camera with me all week long.

ACC Basketball season is, if nothing else, interesting. UNC drops their first 2 conference games, Wake ascends to number 1, only to lose to Virginia Tech on Wednesday. Duke has a loss (a roadie at Michigan), but if they manage to hold serve against Maryland this weekend, they should be the number 1 team come next Monday. NC State continues to struggle, as do the Charlotte 49ers in the A-10. We'll continue to ramp up the hoop coverage for you on both the college and NBA sides as well.

Oh, and in case you've missed it (as the Bobcats continue to remind us), the Bobcats are playing quite well of late. 8 games under 500, a transformed roster, and perhaps a team Larry Brown might like. Cats face Phoenix on Friday night--the return of Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley to the Queen City. We'll see how the new-look Bobcats hold up against the Suns.

Mike Solarte

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