Cats dump Seifert after three years

15 straight losses more than enough to use up coach's nine lives

Posted: Tuesday, January 08, 2002

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- George Seifert's tenure with the Carolina Panthers ended Monday in the same way he spent much of the season -- with his players in the dark and most not really caring.

It was that lack of energy and desire that cost Seifert his job. He was fired Monday after three seasons capped by an NFL-record 15 straight losses in one season that owner Jerry Richardson said took all the passion out of the franchise.

''The energy has been sucked out of our organization and our fan base,'' Richardson said. ''We've lost 15 in a row. ... We were 31st in the league in offense and 31st in defense. It couldn't continue. I had to make a change.''

Richardson declined to speculate on a successor, although Steve Spurrier's name has been on almost everyone's lips since he stepped down at Florida Friday.

Although the firing was expected, the players were the last to know.

Many said Seifert held his usual Monday morning meeting, never mentioning his fate and acting as if he would be back next season. But Seifert already knew his stint was done -- Richardson said discussions started between the two last Friday.

''That's how he is, secretive, a to-the-vest kind of guy who holds everything to himself,'' cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock said. ''I don't think he was a players' coach.''

Other players described Seifert as aloof, a characteristic fans also disliked, and pointed to his steely sideline demeanor. The parting shots by the players proved what most everyone already knew -- the Panthers had given up long before Sunday's 38-6 loss to the New England Patriots.

''If you have a coach who doesn't show any emotion, how are you going to show any?'' defensive tackle Brentson Buckner said. ''How are you going to fight for him when you don't even know if he has any fight in him?''

Seifert, 61, came to Carolina in 1999 after two years in retirement. He had the best winning percentage in league history, going 108-35 in eight years in San Francisco while winning two Super Bowls. The lead Richardson to believe he could spark a Panthers turnaround.

He never could, despite a variety of approaches. He brought his West Coast offense to Carolina the first season, when the Panthers went 8-8 and narrowly missed the playoffs.

Seifert thought they were Super Bowl contenders the next year and brought in a handful of former all-stars to get Carolina over the top.

But the imports -- defensive linemen Reggie White, Eric Swann, Chuck Smith and running back Natrone Means -- were all either past their prime or too injured to play again and Carolina went 7-9 -- the first losing season in Seifert's career.

So he tried a different approach this year, purging the team of many high-priced veterans in order to rebuild around developing young players. That went terribly awry as the Panthers won their opener in Minnesota then lost 15 straight, leaving Seifert 16-32 with the team.

''I had to make a number of decisions and in this business that's a requirement,'' Seifert said. ''Some work, some don't and too many of them didn't.''

The focus now turns to his successor. Richardson gave no timetable for naming a new coach. Nor was he sure if he would hire a general manager, which the team has done without since Bill Polian left almost five years ago.

''There are a number of ways we can go,'' Richardson said. ''We aren't closing the door on anything.''

But Richardson vowed to restore energy into the franchise, which Spurrier surely could do.

Author of one of the most prolific offenses in college football history, Spurrier already has history here. His parents grew up in Charlotte and relatives still live here. He spent three years coaching up the road at Duke and even talked briefly with Panthers officials when they were looking for their first head coach.

And of the few fans who showed up Sunday -- a franchise low 21,070 turned out and most were Patriots fans -- some carried signs clamoring for Spurrier before security confiscated them.

Whether it's Spurrier or someone else, Seifert said his successor will have one of the best jobs in the NFL.

''I have no regrets coming back into coaching. The support group here is as great as any place,'' he said. ''This is a great job, and guys should be banging down the doors trying to get this job.''

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