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Mills begins new chapter


CHARLOTTE - When defensive quality control coach Sam Mills III began to work on the Panthers' new defensive playbook, he was immediately struck by the smorgasbord of philosophies coming together - quite literally - on the same page.

"You have Coach (Ron) Rivera from San Diego, then Coach (Sean) McDermott and Philadelphia. We still have Ron Meeks and the Indy system, plus the Bears system with Eric Washington, and Warren Belin with college experience," Mills pointed out. "It's very exciting when you have so many minds coming together in the room.

"It's kind of like a gumbo."

And Mills, as one of two returning coaches on the staff along with Meeks, is the "gum" in the gumbo.

"Between myself and Coach Meeks, we have a lot of knowledge of what has gone on here," Mills said. "It's a good blend of new and old. I like the new guys because they have fresh eyes. Maybe we might be down on a guy, but with the new guys, it starts from scratch."

It's more of a new chapter than it is a new beginning for Mills, who added the title of assistant defensive line coach when Rivera retained him. Mills has been on the coaching staff since 2005 but has been around the organization since its inception in 1995, when he was a teenager and his father was a linebacker destined to become a legendary figure in the franchise's history.

The younger Mills joined the coaching staff the same year that his father, who was the Panthers' linebacker coach at the time, lost his brave battle with cancer.

"His presence is still felt here," Mills said of his father, the only player in the Panthers Hall of Honor.

Mills' father got him hooked on football in the first place. Mills even followed in his father's footsteps by playing at Montclair State, but his playing days were numbered and he then left football behind altogether - for a short while.

"Mentally, I enjoyed playing, but physically, the body just couldn't take it," Mills said. "I actually went into a regular 9-to-5 life, but then I realized that come the weekend, it just didn't seem right. So I got back into football."

Mills moved back to Charlotte and started helping out equipment manager Jackie Miles, who held the same role with the USFL's Philadelphia Stars when Mills' father played for them. It didn't take Mills long to expand his role.

"I moved over to strength and conditioning, and I then got offered the chance to help out the defensive line. Before I knew it, I was breaking down film and spending late nights here with all the other coaches," Mills said. "What I didn't realize was that I had basically been doing an internship, and then John Fox offered me a spot on his staff."

As defensive quality control coach since 2006, Mills spends most of his time during the season scouting opposing offenses. He may be a relic relatively speaking on the Panthers' new staff, but he uses cutting edge technology in his role.

"Our IT department does a great job. Any type of information we get, we can put it into the system," Mills said. "In the offseason, we set up things in our computer system so that we don't have to worry looking at our defense all the time - the computer tracks so much for us. So during the week, we spend a lot of time on the opponent.

"I always tease Coach Meeks about carrying his notebooks around. The old-school guys always have a pad with them; the new guys always have a laptop with them."

That laptop goes everywhere Mills goes.

"I'm blessed. I get to come to work, and it doesn't feel like work," Mills said. "The guys in the building, we're together so much that it feels like family. You get used to coming in here.

"Don't get me wrong, we love vacation, but after awhile you start looking at the calendar thinking, 'OK, when can we go back?'"

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