CHARLOTTE - In the world of running backs, the number "1,000" carries some serious significance.
In John Settle, the Panthers have a running backs coach perpetually tied to the magical number.
As a player with the Atlanta Falcons in 1988, Settle established a distinction that can never be taken away, becoming the first free agent in NFL history to gain 1,000 rushing yards in a season.
As a coach last season, he helped Wisconsin come within six yards of becoming the first school in college football history to produce a trio of 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.
Now, he takes over a Panthers rushing attack that in 2009 produced the first tandem of 1,100-yard rushers in NFL history in the form of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
"We've got a little work to do, making sure that we keep DeAngelo in the fold, but with Jonathan Stewart, Mike Goodson and Tyrell Sutton, we've got guys that are very talented and that have produced at this level," Settle said. "My job is to come in and teach them the offense, then let their athletic ability take over."
Settle is a believer that the player makes the coach, a philosophy borne out of his days as a self-made success story. A native of Reidsville, N.C. – two hours northeast of Charlotte – Settle was a record-setting running back at Appalachian State.
He became the school's all-time leading rusher in 1986 – a mark that stood until 2007 – but even with a 12-round NFL draft in place in 1987, he wasn't selected. Undaunted, Settle signed with the Falcons – his childhood favorite - and in his second season he rushed for 1,007 yards and made the Pro Bowl.
"I don't think about it too often unless someone mentions it, but it was a great accomplishment at the time, something I'm proud of," Settle said. "I think it's something that has helped propel me in this profession. It gave me a platform because it's something people recognized me by."
Injuries cut short Settle's playing days, but not before he earned a Super Bowl ring with the Washington Redskins after the 1991 season. He made his coaching debut with his alma mater in 1994, and after a comeback attempt with the Cleveland Browns failed in 1995, the team hired him as a coach.
That season proved to be the last for the franchise in Cleveland, after which Settle followed the team to Baltimore for its first two seasons as the Ravens.
"The last game in Cleveland was pretty interesting," Settle recalled. "We had to play the last few minutes of the ballgame at one end of the field because they started to rip up the 'Dog Pound,' throwing seats on the field."
Settle migrated to the college game from there, where he remained until the Panthers came calling. He tutored a half-dozen 1,000-yard backs over eight seasons at Fresno State, then he led one of the most dynamic rushing attacks in the nation over the last five seasons at Wisconsin.
"I've always believed that great players make great coaches," Settle said. "You get the right player in the right system, then if you give him direction, he'll be able to do great things. That made people start to look at the body of work, and it worked out well."
Settle didn't hesitate to return to the pro game when the Panthers set their sights on him. It provided an opportunity to return to his roots -- his father, stepmother and four siblings live in Reidsville – and with his youngest child graduating from high school earlier in the month, it worked well for his immediate family as well.
"I knew that at some point I wanted to get back in the NFL, but the timing had to be right," Settle said. "For me, this was a blessing."