Wednesday, January 30, 2013

And for his next prediction, Ryan Kalil....

(UPDATE: WINNERS FOR THIS CONTEST ARE LISTED AT THE BOTTOM) Panther center Ryan Kalil's Super Bowl guarantee from last summer didn't work out too well. As you know, Baltimore and San Francisco meet in the Super Bowl Sunday. Kalil's Panthers went 7-9 in 2012 and didn't make the playoffs. Kalil, who took out a full-page advertisement in The Observer last July to make his prediction, ended up on the injured reserve list with a foot injury (but will be back for training camp).

Our Joseph Person caught up with Kalil this week. The center said he didn't regret the pick and was able to poke fun at himself. Joked Kalil: "It didn't work out? What do you mean? The Super Bowl's this week?"

So what do you think Kalil's next prediction will be? That the Bobcats will win the 2014 NBA championship? That 8-track tapes will make a comeback? That the man who finished second in this past season's Heisman Trophy race will be exposed as having a fake online girlfriend who "fake-died"? Oh wait, that last one happened.

Tell me what you think Kalil's next prediction will be below in the comments section. The funniest three answers will be published in my Sunday "Scott Says" Super Bowl preview column in The Observer, and the winners also get a free signed copy of their choice of one of my books. (If you were a winner -- see below -- contact me at for your book).

Drum roll, please: the winners were (I judged these myself, as well as the entries I got via Twitter and email)...

1) 1. That in 2014, the Charlotte Observer comment posters will find peace and harmony among one another.

2)Six more weeks of winter.

3) That a Harbaugh coach will hold up the Lombardi Trophy Sunday night.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Would you let your son play football? Obama weighs in

Would you -- or for that matter, do you -- let your son play football?

President Barack Obama, a major sports fan, has weighed in on football safety issues with an interview in The New Republic.

Obama told the publication that he's a football fan but that if he had a son, considering the impact the game has on its players, he would think long and hard before allowing his son to play.

It's a hypothetical question, of course. Obama has two daughters.

But what about you? Have you seen all these concussion-related studies? Do you know about the lawsuits? Do you think Junior Seau committed suicide because of the damage the game did to him, or were there other underlying reasons? Or, on a less severe note, do you think the violence is worth the risk and the reward of all that football played at any level can bring?

It's quite a debate. I think each household answers it differently.

I have three boys who are 14, 12 and 9. However, they go to a small charter school that doesn't field a football team. They are basketball and soccer players and have never expressed an interest in playing organized football anywhere else, although I have made their pickup football games in the backyard be two-hand tag (they prefer tackle, and when I'm gone they sneak in a game of tackle football sometimes anyway. You know this if you have ever raised a boy -- some part of them inherently likes contact. It's hard to keep them off each other).

I will tell you this: I love football. And it scares me. And like Obama, I've never had to make this decision, but I would come down about where he does on it, in the "think long and hard" area. I honestly don't know if I'd say yes or no.

I've attended the NFL hall of fame induction a couple of times and it's a real eye-opener, all those former NFL greats who now have trouble walking and, sometimes, talking. And those were the best of the best.

The game extracts a toll on everyone who plays it. No one gets away from the pain if they play long enough. And yet we love it.

Obama said that football fans are going to have to wrestle with the fact that the game will probably change over time to try to reduce the violence. The president says that some of those changes might make football, in his words, "a bit less exciting" but that it will be much better for players.

"And those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much," he said.

Obama also said he worries more about college players than those in the NFL because the pros have a union, are well-paid and are grown men.

"They can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies," Obama said of NFL players. "You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That's something that I'd like to see the NCAA think about."

Lastly, if you are in the mood for an absolutely harrowing story, you must read this piece from Dan LeBatard in The Miami Herald about the damage Jason Taylor did to himself while becoming one of the best defensive ends ever. It is ridiculous, really, what Taylor put himself through -- but not uncommon. And he would do all of it again.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

6 thoughts on a rare Bobcats win at home

After I watched in person as Charlotte broke a 16-game homecourt losing streak with a 102-101 win over Minnesota Saturday night keyed by Gerald Henderson’s off-balance three-pointer from 25 feet with 4.6 seconds left, here are six quick thoughts:

1) The Bobcats should play that four-guard lineup (Walker, Sessions, Gordon and Henderson) along with Bismack Biyombo more often. It gets the Bobcats’ four most natural scorers onto the court at the same time.

The problem is on the defensive end, of course, but Biyombo (13 rebounds, two blocks Saturday) is getting better at being an eraser.

“They went small and started to attack us and get to the basket, which got them back in it,” acting Minnesota head coach Terry Porter said.

2) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is still so off and on. He helped keep the Bobcats’ last possession alive by making a great save and not allowing the ball to go out of bounds. But in only 15 minutes, MKG picked up four fouls, had no rebounds and scored just two points.

3) Brad Daugherty made the right call. Instead of watching N.C. State beat UNC 91-83 on TV, the former UNC star and current NASCAR announcer sat courtside and watched the Bobcats win a thriller.

4) Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap described Gerald Henderson as “nasty” after the game, and he meant it as a compliment (Tyler Hansbrough would agree, but for a different reason). Henderson noted after the game that a lot of NBA players think the league’s initials stand for “No Boys Allowed.” He was certainly a man Saturday night – that was a big-time three-pointer he hit to win this one.

5) Kemba Walker has clearly become the face of the Bobcats (now 11-32) and the team’s best player. He nearly had a triple-double Saturday night (25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists) and the only extraordinary thing about it was the fact that it felt so ordinary.

6) Dunlap had an interesting quote about the Charlotte fans afterward. The announced attendance Saturday night was 15,397 – there were no more than 10,000 actually in the building and likely less, but that’s still pretty good for an NBA team that had lost 16 straight home games.

“The fans were really important for us,” Dunlap said. “It’s been a long time since we gave them that kind of effort and I think they appreciated that effort. The Charlotte fans are like that. If you work hard and you lose the game, they’ll come back…. What happened tonight was that they saw a group out there that was playing hard. The fans really enjoyed it. And that volume, that’s the loudest they’ve been when Gerald hit that shot. It was beautiful.”

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Super Bowl prediction for the Har-Bowl and some Panther notes

ATLANTA -- A few Panther-related notes – and a Super Bowl prediction -- after I watched in person as San Francisco came back from a 17-0 deficit to edge Atlanta, 28-24, in the Georgia Dome and then saw Baltimore whip New England on TV:

** First, the prediction. For the first time, the 47th Super Bowl will showcase two brothers as coaches of the opposing teams. It’s an amazing story, really, that Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco) and John Harbaugh (Baltimore) have both gotten there the same year in what is now being dubbed the “Har-Bowl.” Jim Harbaugh, incidentally, was once a backup Panther quarterback but never got to play. The 49ers hired him at the same time as Carolina hired Ron Rivera in 2011.

Both brothers have hot quarterbacks. But I’m going to pick the Ravens, even though they are the lower-seeded team, because I think their defense is a little better than San Francisco’s. My Super Bowl pick: Baltimore 27, San Francisco 21.

** The Falcons aren’t going to the Super Bowl, but they are the class of the NFC South and doubled Carolina's wins this past season (14-7). They remain the team the Panthers must find a way to surpass if they are going to win the division and host their own playoff game in 2013.

** Carolina split with the Falcons in 2012, with each team winning at home, but the Panthers didn’t play nearly as well on a week-to-week basis as Atlanta did. And the Falcons showcased one thing Sunday that the Panthers simply don’t have – two elite receivers instead of just one. Julio Jones “is going to be one of the 2-3 best receivers in the whole NFL,” predicted Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez. Jones had 182 yards receiving and two TDs Sunday. White had 100 yards and has hurt the Panthers for years.

** This points up the need for two things: Brandon LaFell to further emerge out of Steve Smith’s lengthy shadow and Carolina’s need for another strong cornerback. Chris Gamble’s days with the team have to be numbered due to his huge salary-cap figure.

** Who was calling the game as the San Francisco 49ers’ radio analyst? Former Panther and 49er cornerback Eric Davis, who has carved out a nice broadcasting career for himself doing both that job and working as an NFL Network analyst.

** It’s no surprise that Davis is succeeding in his new career – he was always a great quote. What was surprising? I asked him how old his triplets were. “Sixteen,” he said. Wow. Doesn’t seem that long ago. But Davis’s triplets were born shortly before Davis and the Panthers made their run to the 1996 NFC championship game.

** Give former Panther defensive coordinator Vic Fangio – the team’s first DC -- some credit for this one. Now in the same role for San Francisco, Fangio dialed up a defense on the Falcons’ final fourth-down play from the San Francisco 10 that Atlanta did not expect. White said it fooled the Falcons and made everything “look covered.”

** Is Gonzalez really retiring in Atlanta? The Panthers would like him to, as would every other NFL team would, but I’m not at all sure he will. How’s this for a postgame qualifier?

“I’m not 100 percent sure,” the 16-year veteran said, “but I’m pretty much positive that this is probably it.”

Sounds like a guy who’s 50-50 to me.

** One last note: Only Panther junkies may remember this, but Jim Harbaugh actually was on the team roster in 2001, for the last part of the 1-15 season. He never actually threw an official pass, though, because Chris Weinke was the starter. Harbaugh told me once that his favorite part of being with the Panthers for those couple of months was throwing to Steve Smith on the scout team -- he said he realized very quickly that Smith didn't belong there, but enjoyed the chance to fire the ball to him anyway.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Shula gets the Panthers OC job -- and he should have

This is scary. The Carolina Panthers keep doing exactly what I want them to do so far this offseason, so I’m guessing a 2-14 season is right around the corner in 2013.

I’m joking about the 2-14…. but seriously? I’m used to the Panthers not taking my advice (and I’m sure they didn’t this time either, that it was just a coincidence). But I a couple of weeks ago I wrote that Ron Rivera should be kept by owner Jerry Richardson for at least one more year, and he was. And then when Rob Chudzinski became Cleveland’s head coach I wrote that Mike Shula should be promoted to offensive coordinator, and according to our beat writer Joseph Person’s sources, he just was.

Shula was the right choice given who the Panthers had to choose from, and he understands Cam Newton’s talents and idiosyncrasies better than anyone else after having been his quarterback coach the past two years. There are many who point to Shula’s bad record as a head coach at Alabama and unimpressive numbers as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator as reasons he should not get this job, but I think he’s the right guy.

Shula is a calm presence. He played the position in college. He will be far more creative than you are guessing he will be, because he’s got Newton as his quarterback now and not Shaun King.

Shula told me once: “I’ve said for the last 15 years -- that as long as I’m around the QBs, I really don’t care if I’m quarterbacks coach or the coordinator or the head coach. I played the position, and there’s something about coaching it that is so challenging and exciting.”

He’s got the challenge of a coaching lifetime now – a young quarterback who should be entering his prime that is going to make him or break him as an OC. Good luck to him – I think he will do just fine.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Gettleman the grinder makes good first impression as Panthers new GM

New Panther general manager Dave Gettleman is not from around here. He’s 61 years old. He basically demoted himself in his last job with the New York Giants.

And you know what? He still makes a heck of a first impression.

Gettleman certainly “won” the press conference at Bank of America Stadium, coming across as charming, smart and gruff. He advanced through the NFL scouting ranks and feels most comfortable watching film in a darkened room and evaluating players, but his sense of humor and directness makes him seem like a guy that players would enjoy talking to and front-office people would like working for.

“I’m pretty simple, my wife will vouch for that,” said Gettleman, who was accompanied at the press conference by his wife and their three children. “I believe in faith, family and football. Those are my priorities. I’m called a grinder and I think that’s a compliment in our industry.”

Gettleman choked up Tuesday talking about his late mother-in-law, he made a joke about his own bad breath and he answered every question honestly. He seemed honest and was definitely entertaining. He wasn’t David Letterman or anything, but there was far more laughter in that press conference than usual, and most of it came from Gettleman poking fun at himself.

First impressions can be a little off, of course. John Fox once snowed me over in our very first extended interview. He was hilarious. He was thoughtful. He was great. And then for most of the next nine years, he purposely became the most boring coach in football and answered nearly every question with a cliche.

Gettleman says that “what you see is what you get” with him, though, and I sure hope that’s true. He’s getting an opportunity for his dream job at age 61, which not a lot of us can say. I hope it works out for him. He’s the kind of guy you want to root for.

When asked why he hadn’t had an opportunity for a GM job before, Gettleman said in recent years he believed his age had worked against him. “I just needed someone who was looking for an older, more mature guy,” Gettleman said. “That’s really what it came down to. Our culture is the next whiz-bang is the next great thing, That’s just where we’re at right now as a culture. It was one of those deals where, ‘Oh, he’s an old dinosaur. He’s probably cranky.’ So the bottom line is, it’s all about the person doing the hiring. It’s all about the fit.”

On this day, the fit seemed fine. Even when Gettleman said the Panthers played “hahd” for Ron Rivera in the last half of the season, you knew what he meant. But where we’ll really find out about Gettleman is when he grinds through a couple of drafts and free-agency periods. He’s got to dig the Panthers out of a $16-million salary cap hole, and then he’s got to supply Rivera with some more players – and he’s going to have to find some of them at bargain prices.

“Roster building is a fluid, liquid situation,” Gettleman said. “And you have to understand if you aren’t improving the bottom end of your roster, you’re not improving.” He also said he wanted the Panthers to “raise their own” players much like former GM Marty Hurney did, drafting well and then keeping the best.

He also said he was fine working with Rivera. Said the new GM: “I told Ron, ‘I don't have a list of head coaches in my back pocket.’ I have no interest in that.”

What he is interested in is his legacy, both personally and professionally. Gettleman referenced the word “legacy” several times Tuesday, saying at his age he owed it to himself to think about that. He wants that legacy to include a winner in Charlotte. He told Rivera Thursday when they had breakfast together: “If we do this right, you and I are holding up the trophy with Mr. Richardson.”

It was a nice quote. Now he has to start making it happen.

Monday, January 14, 2013

What a spectacular NFL weekend it was

It has been a long time since I've enjoyed an NFL weekend more than the one we just had.

Four games. Four barnburners.

When the losing team scores at least 28 points in every single game, you know you saw something pretty amazing.

The Denver-Baltimore game was an all-timer, primarily because it went into the sixth quarter. You just don't see that much (although the Panthers did it once, and in the same round of the playoffs, in 2003).

And Atlanta-Seattle -- a 30-28 Falcons win, which mimicked Atlanta's winning score against Carolina earlier this season exactly -- was amazing. I wonder if John Fox was watching that one (see the post two down from this one for my thoughts on how Fox's conservatism cost the Broncos dearly). The way the Falcons went down the field with hardly any time left to set up for the winning field goal -- that's what Denver had the opportunity to do on the final possession of regulation Saturday, but Fox instead had Peyton Manning take a knee and play for overtime. (Of course the difference was Atlanta had no choice -- the Falcons were down by a point and didn't have the OT option. It was now or never).

Although the other two games didn't come down to the final seconds -- with San Francisco and New England both pulling away -- they still had an enormous share of big moments. The weekend was the polar opposite of "wild-card weekend" seven days before, which was totally boring.

I'm picking San Francisco and New England to advance to the Super Bowl this coming Sunday. But what I'm really hoping for is two more games that live up to the ones we just saw.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Winners of the 7-9 contest are....

My crowdsourced column on “The Curse of 7-9” is in Sunday’s Charlotte Observer and can also be found online here. In the column, I pointed out the Panthers have gone 7-9 seven times – including in 2012. And I asked fans how it felt. I used 20 of the more than 200 responses I got in the published column (many of them came from an item on this blog asking for submissions).

The 20 that made the column are listed below. If one of them is yours and you want a FREE signed copy of my 2004 book on the Panthers published shortly after their Super Bowl appearance – called “Tales from the Carolina Panthers Sideline” – as a token of my appreciation, let me know your name and address and which one-liner you wrote. I have several of the winners' names already but need more of them.

Many more responses were very good and could have been published as well –there were many references to “Groundhog Day” and takeoffs on "it is what it is" -- but I ran out of room. Thanks to all who participated.

A list of the winners….br />
Every time the Panthers go 7-9, it feels like: br />
…. you were promised a trip to Athens and Rome and ended up in north Georgia.

.... watching an insect continually fly into a closed glass door.

…. Jennifer Aniston is off the market again. I know I didn’t realistically have a chance, but it still sucks.

…. making it all the way home just to find out they forgot to put your fries in the bag.

....that time at the bar when that smokin' hot girl locked eyes with you and smiled, but only because you had a peanut stuck to your cheek.

…. that boy who loosens his arm will soon be signed.

… it must be time for the annual Jerry Richardson Celebrity Golf Cart Classic.

…. trying to get excited about prom night when you are home schooled.

……my PSL stands for Panthers Stink, Lose.

…. the terrorists are winning.

…. A ticket price increase is coming.

…. winning 100 percent of the time 43 percent of the time.

.…. Cam Newton just called me sweetheart.

…. my Kerry Collins jersey fits a little tighter.

….. the numbing mediocrity of taking a lukewarm bath at an two-star airport hotel on the last night of a semi-fun, semi-miserable family vacation.

…. rain when they were predicting snow.

…. DeAngelo Williams’ acting career – dreadful.

… someone is owed a beating with the “Keep Pounding” hammer.

…. a family reunion of hope and despair.

.… we have to help the sportswriters come up with something to fill their columns.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

John Fox's conservatism helps Broncos blow a big one

John Fox stayed true to his conservative roots Saturday night in Denver – and it cost the Broncos dearly in a classic AFC playoff game.

Baltimore beat Denver on the road, 38-35, in double overtime, and Fox will and should be second-guessed just like he used to be in Carolina for playing it so close to the vest when the game was on the line.

But that’s Fox, as we all know in the Carolinas. He doesn’t like to gamble. He told me 11 years ago the first time we talked at any length – just after he took over the Carolina Panthers for what became a nine-year stint -- that “a punt is not a bad play.” He’s conservative even when he has Peyton Manning on his side.

Leading 35-28 and with Baltimore out of timeouts, Denver had the ball and faced a third-and-7 at the Denver 47 with exactly two minutes to go. If Denver throws the ball just once -- for one more first down – then the game’s over.

Instead, the Broncos ran it (Peyton Manning would say later he audibled to a run, but if I'm the Bronco coaches I don't let that even be an option in that situation). They didn't get it. And they punted. And then Baltimore scored on a 70-yard pass to send it to overtime (that was eerily reminiscent of the way Carolina punted to Atlanta in September, only to see safety Haruki Nakamura allow a 59-yard pass over his head that set up the Falcons for a winning field goal).

But still… Denver is getting the ball back at its own 20, the game tied at 35, the home crowd in its favor, timeouts in its pocket. What does Fox do?

He has Manning kneel down once to send the game into overtime. Even the CBS announcers couldn't believe that one.

Now this game wasn’t all Fox’s fault by any means (Manning would say later he called a run audible on third-and-7, and of course the offensive coordinator has something to do with all this). In overtime, both teams possessed the ball twice, with plenty of chances to win, before Manning threw a bad interception and Baltimore converted it into the winning field goal. Who’s to say if Fox had made Manning throw the ball in those earlier two situations that Manning wouldn’t have thrown another interception?

But then again, if you’ve got a hall of fame quarterback on the field and you don't use him any better than that, I think you deserve to lose.

Bottom line: Fox mismanaged this one. I think Manning would have completed a third-and-7 pass at aruond midfield late in the fourth quarter. I don’t think the Ravens would ever have gotten the ball again for that last-gasp Hail Mary TD, and there would have been no overtime.

But now we’ll never know. (Photo credit: Associated Press)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Shula logical next step to replace Chudzinski

With the Thursday-night news that Rob Chudzinski will coach the Cleveland Browns next season, Carolina Panther head coach Ron Rivera has a very big decision to make. He needs a new offensive coordinator – someone who can shepherd the development of Cam Newton, manage the volatility of Steve Smith and figure out how to get all those running backs the right number of carries.

Unless Rivera can land a really big fish, however -- and it sounds like Norv Turner is going to join Chud in Cleveland -- the correct choice is already right in front of him: Mike Shula.

Shula, the Panthers’ current quarterbacks coach, knows Newton better than anyone left on the current staff. He has been an NFL offensive coordinator already (at Tampa Bay) and a college head coach and quarterback (at Alabama).

I’m not recommending Shula because of his famous father. Don Shula was a hall of famer and one of the all-time greats, but he has nothing to do with this. Mike Shula has done well on his own in Charlotte, and he’s ready for this promotion.

Plus, the Panthers could use some continuity on the coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Rivera just fired the running backs coach and the wide receivers coach this week, so those jobs are about to turn over. Now Chudzinski – quite suddenly – is gone.

Shula is a calming and thoughtful presence on the sideline who was originally hired on Chudzinski’s recommendation (and because he has long had a reputation for nurturing young quarterbacks). I asked Shula once if he was satisfied being a quarterbacks coach with Carolina, since he has been on bigger stages many times before.

“I’ve said for the last 15 years,” Shula says, “that as long as I’m around the QBs, I really don’t care if I’m quarterbacks coach or the coordinator or the head coach. I played the position, and there’s something about coaching it that is so challenging and exciting.”

Well, he can still be around the QBs if he gets this promotion. But unless Rivera has someone like Ken Whisenhunt stashed in his back pocket as a backup plan or the reports are wrong on Turner going to Ohio – then I think Shula is the logical next step for Carolina.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Give me your best one-liner about Panther record

UPDATE: Because of other sports news and the great outpouring of entries, we are going to publish the column based on this post and the reader responses in our biggest newspaper -- Sunday's -- and will put it online then too. Thanks for so many fine responses -- you guys are a lot funnier than I am and have made my first "crowdsourced" column a lot of fun to do... Scott. It is still fine to submit entries for your own amusement and those of others, but the contest deadline has passed to be under consideration for publication.

I wish I could dash off one-liners. I admire comedians or writers who only need a single line to make someone laugh. I can't do it well at all.

So I'm asking for your help. For an upcoming column I'm tentatively titling "The Curse of 7-9," I'm exploring the Panthers' history with that very common record.

The Panthers have now finished with a 7-9 record seven times in their short history, a record more than twice as common for Carolina as any other outcome. All four Panther head coaches went 7-9 at least once, and of course it was Carolina's record in 2012.

What does that have to do with you? I'm looking for your best one-liner, since I'm sure it will be better than mine. Winners' entries will be published in my upcoming column -- either anonymously or with their names attached, their choice -- and will also receive a Panther-themed book. All you have to do is finish this sentence (and please make this your original work, I don't want any plagiarized one-liners from Jerry Seinfeld):

Every time the Panthers go 7-9, it feels like ________________________________.

Major points will be given for originality and humor. Don't make this a treatise, please. I am looking for you to finish that one sentence with however many words you want. That's all.

Send your one-liners (please limit yourself to no more than two tries per person) either as a comment on this blog below or in an email to You can comment anonymously and still enter. I will notify winners through another blog entry and via email and with my Twitter account (@Scott_Fowler). Deadline is 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan.9th.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Former Panther Jeff Lewis dies at age 39

Former Panther quarterback Jeff Lewis (above) died Saturday in Phoenix at age 39. The cause of death has not been released at this time. (MONDAY UPDATE: Over the weekend, police in Phoenix said foul play was not suspected and that Lewis suffered from a pre-existing health condition, but would not say what that condition was.

Stoltenberg (AP)
(SUNDAY UPDATE: I didn't know this until several alert readers pointed it out, but a center on the Panther team who played at the same time Lewis played and who often snapped Lewis the ball in practices and games died Friday. Bryan Stoltenberg, who started 18 games for Carolina between 1998-2000 and played in 20 others, was 40 years old. He recently underwent several surgeries after a serious car accident last month and a blood clot is suspected as the cause of death, according to the University of Colorado website. Stoltenberg passed away at his home in Sugarland, Texas, and is survived by his wife and three sons, ages 16, 14 and 11. This is so sad -- and very strange, as it came about 24 hours before Lewis's death). Here is a link to my column on the deaths of both men, which expands upon the blog items below.

Lewis had been coaching the wide receivers at Northern Arizona, his alma mater, a job he took prior to the 2012 season. The school put out a statement announcing his death (his Northern Arizona bio and a "Getting to Know Jeff Lewis" video can be found here). Lewis was a four-year starter at Northern Arizona from 1991-95 and was in the college’s hall of fame. He also had previously spent three years as an assistant coach at the University of Louisville and done some high school coaching as well. His official school biography had said Lewis was the “proud father” of one son but did not mention any other family. Funeral arrangements are pending.

The Panthers traded for Lewis in 1999, shortly after hiring coach George Seifert. Seifert was very enamored with Lewis, who had the sort of mobility that he had liked and had been considered the heir apparent to John Elway in Denver before he blew out his knee in a pickup basketball game and fell out of favor with coach Mike Shanahan.

The Panthers gave up a third-round pick in 1999 and what turned out to be fourth-rounder in 2000 for Lewis. Seifert wanted Lewis to eventually replace Beuerlein as the starter. Beuerlein kept playing too well for that to happen, however – making the Pro Bowl in 1999 and then also playing decently in 2000.

In the spring of 2001, Seifert sped up the timetable by making one of the most bizarre moves in Panther history – he released Beuerlein with the idea of making Lewis his starter. That backfired badly. Lewis had two awful games in a row in the 2001 preseason – in one, throwing three straight interceptions -- and the mercurial Seifert first demoted him to fourth team and then cut Lewis outright before the season began, handing the starting job to rookie Chris Weinke. The Panthers then went 1-15.

Lewis was sensitive to his mistakes during his three rocky years in Carolina, understanding that he had not fulfilled expectations. He never threw a touchdown pass in 11 exhibitions and in his limited regular-season duty for Carolina. Yet the Panthers paid him more than $7 million and gave him a three-year contract extension before he had ever taken a snap.

“I’m not going to make any excuses, " he said after being released in 2001. "Obviously, I'm disappointed it didn't work out. I tried as hard as I could. I probably tried too hard."

When asked if anything could have been different about his time at Carolina he said then: “I want to take the high road on this whole thing. I played as hard as I could every time I was out there.”

And he did. He just wasn’t a very good player. In fact, he was really bad by NFL quarterback standards and never threw an actual NFL TD pass.

But by all accounts – including mine -- Lewis was a very good person. I did not get to know him well, but I always respected him as a player who tried to make the best out of one bad situation after another. And it wasn’t his fault Seifert invested so much in him -- hey, he was just trying to do his best, and he attracted the attention of a coach who at the time had a great reputation with quarterbacks. So I am very sorry to hear of his passing, as I am sure all Panther fans are.

Lewis and Stoltenberg become at least the sixth and seventh Panthers I can remember who have died. If I am missing someone, please tell me. The others I recall are: Curtis Whitley (former center for the 1995 and 1996 Panther teams); Fred Lane (running back, 1997-99); Reggie White (defensive end in 2000); Sam Mills (linebacker, 1995-97) and Al Lucas (defensive lineman, 2000-01, thanks to both Mike Rucker and Greg 'Catman' Good for reminding me about Lucas, who died after a serious injury in an Arena Football league game). I talked to Rucker Sunday afternoon and he said Lewis was a "great, clean-cut, lighthearted" guy and that Stoltenberg had a fine sense of humor and was known in the locker room for "having some of the biggest calves known to man."

Guest Book for Jeff Lewis: Post thoughts, condolences

Guest Book for Bryan Stoltenberg: Post thoughts, condolences

Panthers do the right thing and keep Rivera

After an unsettling week, Ron Rivera is now settled in for another season.

A Panther spokesman said Saturday that Rivera (13-19 in two seasons) would return for a third season as the Panthers' head coach, which is a move I've been advocating for the past three weeks. Rivera has improved as a coach, and he deserves one more year. This was the right thing for Panther owner Jerry Richardson to do, even though waiting six days to do it was awkward and unnecessary.

I also believe it was fine for Richardson to make the call on Rivera rather than wait for a new general manager to come in and do it. Richardson has seen Rivera's style up close and personal for two years now. He's more familiar with him than any GM would be. If he's comfortable with Rivera, hey, he's the one writing the checks.

I asked Rivera a few weeks ago if he thought he was better as a head coach compared to January 2011, when the Panthers hired him. “Without a doubt in my mind,” Rivera said. “I think the biggest thing is management, more than anything else…. I'll put myself up against anybody with X’s and O’s. I feel very confident about that. But I've had to learn a lot about management. When you're managing 26 people and five coaches [as a defensive coordinator] and now you're managing 61 people and 17 coaches, it's a little bit different.”

A man who can't admit to mistakes will never learn from them. Rivera deserves one more year to get this right.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Panther silent treatment is doing no one any good

(UPDATE: Panther coach Ron Rivera is now scheduled to meet with team owner Jerry Richardson Saturday -- following that meeting, Rivera's fate will likely be decided).

So while we're waiting for a decision on Ron Rivera, here are four quick thoughts:

1) Rivera better not be twisting in the wind here. It's a cruel and unnecessary punishment if team owner Jerry Richardson is going to fire Rivera now, several days after the season, or allow a new GM to fire him after leaving the coach hanging out there for so long. That's not the way you fire a coach and a good man. Seven other NFL teams fired coaches, and they all did it the day after the season -- the so-called "Black Monday" -- which is the right way to do it. You cut somebody loose and then give them a chance to get in the mix for other jobs (same goes for the assistant coaches, as staffs fill up quickly in the NFL).

2) Given that Richardson hasn't fired Rivera yet and the team owner is an honorable man, I tend to think the longer this goes, the safer Rivera probably is. In the past three instances where he's fired coaches, Richardson has done it far more quickly than this. He fired both Dom Capers and George Seifert on "Black Monday" -- on the day after the 1998 and the 2001 seasons, respectively. Richardson announced two days before the 2010 season even ended that John Fox and his coaching staff weren't going to be retained (and that move was long expected that season).

3) The wild card in this, of course, is that the Panthers are searching for a general manager. My colleague Tom Sorensen believes the new GM should decide Rivera's fate, not Richardson. I respectfully disagree. I think Rivera has earned his shot at a third year, and that Richardson should tell the new GM he and Rivera will work together for one year, and then, if there are no playoffs in 2013, the new GM is free to hire whomever he wants. The new GM is going to have enough to do anyway given that the Panthers find themselves in salary-cap jail once again, and so soon after the contract purge of 2010.

4) In the meantime, the Panthers' official "cone of silence" is doing no one any good. If Rivera is going to be retained, the Panthers need to say so. If the new GM hire is going to come first, they need to say so. And if Rivera was going to be fired, they needed to have already said that on Monday.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Five postgame notes on Duke's win over Davidson

-- The crowd was listed at 13,607 for Duke's 67-50 win and was legitimately loud. About 2/3 of the crowd was for Davidson and the other third for Duke -- no one was neutral, and every basket brought a roar.

-- Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was far more complimentary than he had to be of Davidson coach Bob McKillop after the game, calling McKillop a "treasure" and "really one of the most coveted coaches in the country."

-- Davidson really played well to lose by 17. The Blue Devils defended Mason Plumlee (10 points, six turnovers) and Charlotte's Seth Curry (3-for-11 for six points) about as well as anybody has all season. And Davidson outrebounded Duke 34-33 and was tied with the Blue Devils at halftime. But Davidson could afford no lapses in this game and had one at the beginning of the second half. Duke scored 12 straight points and that was it.

-- Krzyzewski spent about two minutes longer than everyone else on the court at the halftime break to argue about a play Duke was trying to run with 00.3 seconds left. The clock started as soon as Duke threw the inbounds pass, meaning it ran out before anyone touched the ball. Coach K talked with all three officials and a couple of folks at the scorer's table about it, finally leaving with a slight shake of his head.

"Sometimes you have an argument with your mate," Coach K said later with his wife Mickie in the back of the press room. "You know you can't win. You just walk away. She [Mickie] lets me walk away with dignity. They messed that one up.... Thank goodness it didn't have a bearing on the game."

-- Davidson's De'Mon Brooks had an excellent night rebounding (12 boards to lead everyone) but a poor night shooting, missing a lot of shots in the paint and having several others blocked. Jake Cohen (19 points in 19 minutes) was very effective as a scorer but couldn't stay in the game due to foul trouble. That left Clint Mann (2-for-12) to take far more shots for the Wildcats than he usually does, and that didn't turn out well. Davidson's three starting guards also shot 3-for-14 combined and Nik Cochran in particular (three turnovers, three fouls, two assists, two points) never seemed like he could get comfortable against Duke's quick guards.