Ah, the wonders of the Internet.
I was still in Fort Lauderdale, awaiting a flight back from Monday night’s Orange Bowl, when the Panthers held their 11 a.m. news conference Tuesday. But I was able to watch Panther owner Jerry Richardson take questions from my colleagues over the Internet. Here are five quick thoughts on what I thought was a rather extraordinary 30 minutes, as Richardson, 74, so rarely graces the media with his presence:
1) Richardson was really feisty.
From forcing one TV reporter he wanted to tease to sit in the front row to drawing on his legal pad to explain how the owners are getting the short end of the NFL money stick to telling the room he was likely going to live a lot longer than they think he will, Richardson was combative, funny and opinionated. I was really glad to see all three of those characteristics – that’s Richardson at his best. Health-wise, he’s obviously feeling good. There were a few uncomfortable moments in the press conference, but by and large I thought Richardson got his points across.
2) Richardson (and Panthers general manager Marty Hurney) seemed committed to hiring an NFL assistant coach as their next head coach.
So forget Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh (who won’t care, as he has tons of other options). Forget any other collegiate coach. Forget Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher or Brian Billick. It looks like the next John Fox of 2002 is coming down the pike, whether it’s Perry Fewell, Ron Rivera or whomoever. And Hurney said the search would be done “expeditiously” – I’m betting it is over in the next 5-10 days.
Hiring an established NFL assistant won’t sell tickets, but it has worked (sort of) for Carolina twice in the past with Fox and Dom Capers.
3) Richardson’s reputation as a hard-line owner is not misplaced.
When he talked about the players’ union representatives, you could almost see fire coming out of the owner’s nostrils. When he said the union reps told the owners they wanted “more money, more benefits and we want to work less,” same thing. When he said he “wasn’t optimistic” that much progress was being made toward a new collective-bargaining agreement, you got the sense that Richardson will be stunned if there is an agreement before the early March lockout date.
4) Richardson hates being called cheap.
One of the more interesting numbers he mentioned: $11,441,000, which is apparently what the total payroll for all the recently-departed Panther coaches was for 2010. Richardson said this was the fifth-highest coaching payroll in the league, and he acted like he would write all those checks again – if he could get back-to-back winning seasons, which the Panthers have never had. (Richardson also indicated he didn’t think the Panthers would trade away the No.1 draft pick of 2011, which is a bonus for those like me who think Andrew Luck could be the next Peyton Manning).
5) Richardson’s succession plan is still very much in flux.
While the owner said his new heart should keep him around for a long time, he also revealed he owns 48 percent of the team and his 14 partners own the other 52 percent. He said he plans to own the team until he dies – “I intend to own the team as long as I live” was the quote -- but beyond then what happens?
Richardson wouldn’t say, saying he was focused more on the short term. I wonder what sons Mark and Jon Richardson thought while they were watching this press conference.