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January 31, 2011

Panthers tap into coaching connections

    On the surface, you'd look at the Panthers coaching moves Monday and think there were ulterior motives at work.

    Particularly in hiring WRs coach Fred Graves (who coached a certain undersized receiver you might know when he was at Utah), it's easy to suspect a plot. Graves recruited Steve Smith to Utah, but there's no guarantee he can get him to sign a letter of intent to stay here.

    "We are very pleased to have Fred and Pete join our staff," coach Ron Rivera said in the team's release, which also announced TEs coach Pete Hoener's hiring. "They bring an extensive coaching background and have developed a number of young receivers in the NFL. They are both highly regarded and will make a strong contribution to our offense."

    Notice what Rivera didn't say? Know whose name wasn't in the press release at all?

    The Panthers know that all matters Smith are a little dicey at the moment. So even if hiring Graves was done with him in mind, they're smart enough not to say it out loud.

    To be fair, Smith hasn't said he wants out. He hasn't said he wants to stay. He hasn't said much of anything, really.

    But if the Panthers hired Graves thinking he was the path to locking up Smith, they could be inviting some unintended consequences.

    The absolute quickest way to lose Smith is to let him suspect you're trying to handle him. I've been around the guy at work every day for nine years now, and I've seen it happen to reporters, to teammates and to coaches.

    It may not be right, and it may not be fair, but it is at least consistent. For that, I'll give Smith credit. He's the same to everyone.

    He's suspicious by nature, and when people approach him, he's generally sized them and their intentions up long before they arrive.

    Graves knows Smith well enough to know he can't really make him do anything he doesn't want, but he has to try.

    Like many of the authority figures Smith respects, Graves has stood up to Smith. At Utah, he got tired of Smith "mouthing off," and kicked him out of practice during a punt return drill.

    "He stood in the end zone with his helmet on crying he was so upset," Graves said during a 2005 interview. "Steve Smith loves football, and when it was taken away from him, it bothered him. After that, I knew he realized what was happening. Steve's smart, and he understands.

    "I kind of always end up with guys who have chips on their shoulders. At Utah, that was a big part of it with him. If you're meek and mild, nobody's going to notice you. If you’ve got that chip, you want to make plays."

    Smith still has that chip, but he has changed the way he expresses it. But knowing his background, Graves has some idea about what to expect.

    "I don't know if mellow is the word I'd use," Graves said Monday night when asked how to he'd describe his recent conversations with Smith. "He's still a competitor. He's always been a fiery guy, but he thinks more now about the consequences. It wasn't always that way coming up.

    "But at the same time, I don't want to take that away from him."

    Stay tuned.

    -- We'll get more into their other hires (Hoener and defensive line coach Eric Washington) later. Graves and Smith are the news of the day. But a few quick things on each of them.

    Within minutes of their hires, my phone buzzed with unsolicited testimonials for their work. Both seem to fit into the teacher mold Rivera is pushing, though they're different.

    Hoener is an old-school football coach, a guy who helped develop Vernon Davis in San Francisco. Washington's 41, and has three years NFL experience. But former Panthers Julius Peppers is said to have vouched for his work, and that says something (speaking of cats who don't trust many people).

    The Panthers are clearly looking for help at tight end, whether that's coaxing something new out of existing players or bringing in new ones. And they're definitely bringing in new ones on the defensive line, in some fashion.

    File this away for later, but New York Giants DT Barry Cofield could be a free agent with a new CBA. His college position coach at Northwestern? Eric Washington.

-- Darin Gantt

Posted by Observer Sports on January 31, 2011 at 08:54 PM | Permalink


Why are you concerned about Steve Smith being here next year? His contract has two years remaining! What a feeble attempt by wannabe sportswriters trying to dream up an angle for a storyline!! HA! HA!

Posted by: dbigcat | Jan 31, 2011 11:57:37 PM

I know, this is to stir things up. Smith wont go anywhere, he has two years left on contract, is not tradeable right now, and he always said he wants to be the first Panther in the HOF. Smith will not be ran out of Carolina, he knows things are changing here in a good way. We wont be the 1955 Browns, we will be the 2011 Panthers where we throw for first downs. Stop trying to start things......there is already enough news for the Panthers.

Posted by: dusty | Feb 1, 2011 1:13:08 AM

I just like dbigcat and dusty's comments.

Posted by: JT | Feb 1, 2011 7:44:29 AM

A bad article with twisted logic.

Posted by: Rodger | Feb 1, 2011 7:52:32 AM

From Woody Paige's column in the Denver Post:

"The order of business is Fox will hire a staff, and the Broncos will continue concentrating on potential free agents and the draft. Fox wasn't consumed with being a control freak in Carolina. "As we've said, the moves we'll make will be based on a consensus, and John is on board with that," Elway said.

My question: were most of the decisions in Carolina a "consensus?" Will Rivera be a "consensus" guy. I'm not sure this angle has been explored. Who does make the Panthers' decisions - personnel, etc. Some would call Elway and company as "meddlers." But, is this how it's been done in Carolina? And, will be done with Rivera? Maybe Fox thinks all the decisions that led to this past season's awful year were made by somebody else....do you think this is what Fox told Elway?

Posted by: ROXYFOXY | Feb 1, 2011 9:32:15 AM

Maybe the reason for hiring Graves is much simpler. If I had Steve Smith for two more years to anchor the receiving corps and a couple of second year guys who finally started to shine bright by the end of their rookie seasons, what better person to bring on board to develop our other diminutive receiver project. He might be all that Edwards needs to begin to shine and get on the field with his speed. He's Steve Smith in the rough. Let's polish him him up and take him out for a drive.

Posted by: PantherFancier | Feb 1, 2011 12:50:35 PM

Hard to read anything into this article except, if a guy like Graves can handle and see potential in a guy like Smith, then whose to say who we can't find maybe this year or maybe next year's draft that can be the next(fill in the blank)...

Posted by: Just thinking | Feb 1, 2011 1:04:50 PM

Count me as a guy who just thinks these hires are more about coaching rather than former coaching relationships. I guess I don't know football like you guys though..

Posted by: Gamble20 | Feb 1, 2011 4:16:06 PM

Anyone who thinks that a contract in the NFL means anything, better open their eyes. A team can release a player any time they want if they are willing to pay the price. Pay attention morons!

Posted by: Kevin Trent | Feb 1, 2011 7:02:50 PM

Yes they can release him, but the point is that the Panthers would like to keep him, or at least all the perceptions seem to say that. I agree with other people here that say this article is bringing up a point that is moot. If Steve has two years left on his contract (I knew it was for at least 1 more) and with him being 33 y/o then, it may be his productivity has decreased enough to make him expendable. One final point, a DT tandem of Fairley and Cofield would be NICE!

Posted by: Au Contraire | Feb 2, 2011 4:15:33 PM

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