In one of the oddest and most jarring Carolina Panther announcements in franchise history, the team said today that team president Mark Richardson and stadium president Jon Richardson have announced their resignations from the Carolina Panthers.
A team official has told me that there is no plan to sell or move the team in the wake of this announcement, so at least that rumor can (more or less) be put to rest.
But an announcement like this makes all sorts of other rumors pop up. The quotes in the Panthers' press release – one apiece from owner Jerry Richardson, Mark and Jon – tried to smooth over any rumblings of internal discontent. Those quotes also gave absolutely no reason for why this was happening, which makes me think, of course, that there’s some serious internal discontent somewhere -- in fact, likely in several places.
Mark and Jon used words like “exciting” and “fortunate” and “unique” and “great” to describe their experience with the team in the press release. That begs the question: Why would you leave all that? They are still retaining a minority ownership stake in the team, but as far as the day-to-day operations, that’s done. Only Jerry Richardson is left.
And this is (or was) the Richardson family business, after all. Once it was hamburgers. Now it is football. You don't walk away -- or get pushed away -- from that lightly. (I left phone messages for Jon, Mark and Jerry Richardson, but haven't heard back from any of that trio).
Mark was groomed as Jerry Richardson’s heir apparent for years as No.1 on the Panthers' organizational chart. Who fills that role now is one of the biggest questions about this announcement. Well-liked Panther ticket guru Phil Youtsey -- who has been with the team since its inception -- would be one obvious candidate to run the business side like Mark did, but there will be others. Scott Paul will help direct the stadium operations side to help fill Jon's void. But titles may change -- no one is saying the Panthers are automatically going to add another president on the org chart.
Mark has been team president since 1997, since the generally beloved Mike McCormack retired. Mark is the dapper dresser with the expensive tastes who oversaw the business side of the Panther operations. The announcement of his resignation is the one that absolutely has stunned the Panthers' staff.
Jon is the more down-to-earth brother – the one who has battled cancer off-and-on for the past decade. He loves to wear jeans and eat at diners. Jon has been the head of Bank of America Stadium operations since it opened in 1996. The team release said Jon had told the Panthers’ staff awhile back he was going to resign.
In fact, Jon sent out an e-mail at least a month ago telling Panther staff members that he would be leaving without giving a timetable. From what a Panther source tells me, Jon's decision is lifestyle-related. Although his health is OK as of now, the long battle with cancer has taken a toll. He wants to have more time, basically, to enjoy life. This was a decision he had been mulling for many months.
But Mark Richardson no longer functioning as the team president? Now there's the shocker.
Here’s their father, team founder/owner Jerry "Big Cat" Richardson, in the team press release about their resignations: “Both Mark and Jon made great contributions to the stadium and team that have enabled us to enjoy much success over the last 15 years. At the same time, I am thankful that we have a staff that has been in place for many years and knows our philosophy.”
Hmm. If you’re reading the tea leaves on that quote, it’s not exactly brimming with praise, is it?
“Great contributions,” yes. That gets one sentence. But Jerry Richardson quickly comes back in the second sentence to make it sound like the staff in place can do the job just as well as his sons did.
Strange doings, for sure. Stay tuned. And make sure to read Wednesday's Charlotte Observer -- and on CharlotteObserver.com -- for more news on this developing story.
** And in the meantime, the Panthers traded for a defensive tackle -- Louis Leonard of Cleveland -- today. That was for an undisclosed draft choice, which usually means a late-round choice. Leonard only started 4 games in Cleveland the past two years -- he's no Kris Jenkins or Maake Kemoeatu -- but at least he weighs 325 pounds and can function as a space-eater if not much else.
On most days, that trade would have been huge news for the Panthers. Today, though, it's not much more than an afterthought due to the seismic tremors from the front office.