Seifert fired after three years with Carolina Panthers

Monday, January 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ George Seifert was fired Monday as coach of the Carolina Panthers after three years capped by an NFL-record 15 straight losses that the owner said took all the passion out of the franchise.

``The energy has been sucked out of our organization and our fan base,'' owner Jerry 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 lured Seifert out of retirement in 1999, enamored by the best winning percentage in league history and the two Super Bowls Seifert won with the San Francisco 49ers.

But Seifert was 16-32 without a winning season in Carolina, and his effort to rebuild the Panthers through youth this season went terribly awry.

The normally jovial Seifert was grim-faced as he announced his own dismissal. He took no questions before leaving the news conference, well before Richardson arrived.

``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.

The Panthers wrapped up their dismal season Sunday with a 38-6 loss to the New England Patriots, who clinched the AFC East title with the win. The loss was the 15th in a row after an opening-week victory, the first time an NFL team lost 15 straight games in one season.

After the game, Seifert said he planned to be back next season to continue his rebuilding effort, despite reports he would be forced out or fired.

By not resigning, Seifert is owed the remaining $5 million on the final two years of his contract.

Richardson said he has no timetable to name a replacement and declined to say whether he is considering Steve Spurrier, who said Friday he is leaving the University of Florida to pursue an NFL job.

Nor was he sure if he would hire a general manager, which the team has not had 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.''

Seifert held his regular Monday morning meeting with players without talking about his own situation. He told players to do their usual off-season training, and that the coaching staff would be in touch with them over the winter.

``It was the same thing he's done the past two years,'' safety Mike Minter said. ``He just basically wrapped things up and made no mention about himself. As far as I'm concerned, he's still the coach of the team.''

Before he came to the Panthers, Seifert never had a losing season in the NFL and had won two Super Bowls with San Francisco, where the team earned a 108-35 record in his eight years at the helm.

But he's never had the talent he had with the 49ers and has had nothing but disappointment in Carolina _ his best mark was 8-8 mark in his first year.

Richardson, who rarely made himself available to the media during the season, remained silent on Seifert's situation as the losses accumulated. There was speculation he'd be reluctant to fire Seifert _ after all, Seifert purged the team of many high-priced veterans last winter in order to rebuild with younger, inexperienced players on Richardson's orders.

Richardson said Monday he had no choice.

``I own the team. I have a responsibility to give the people here the best chance to win. I believed hiring George was the best thing to do,'' Richardson said. ``He came in and it didn't work out. We must go forward.

``When you have a season like we just had, it sucks the energy out of the coaches, fans and players. Starting today, we're going to be pumping the energy back into the team.''

Seifert, too, sounded an optimistic note about the team's future, while declining to describe his own plans.

``I think there's a good nucleus and some good young players. At some point, a winning tradition will be established here,'' he said. ``I'm disappointed in the way I'm going out as a coach, but I'm looking forward to the unknown in regards to the rest of my life.''