Panthers pack up, look ahead

CHARLOTTE - Less than six months ago on an unseasonably cool July morning in Spartanburg, S.C., Panthers players hauled bags of belongings into dorm rooms to kick off training camp.

Monday, on a frigid January morning at Bank of America Stadium, players packed up their belongings and exited the building to signal the end of the 2010 season.

The players don't yet know what they'll find when they return to the stadium - and realistically some won't return - but they're still excited about what the future could hold.

"It can only go up from here. I'm excited about that," quarterback Jimmy Clausen said. "I'm definitely excited to hear about the new coaching staff that's going to be hired. I can't wait to meet the new coaches when that time comes and we get things started for next year."

Before the Panthers embraced the future, they said goodbye to their past. John Fox addressed the team one last time as head coach Monday morning, ending his nine seasons on the job.

"It's emotional," safety Charles Godfrey said. "You build a bond with these coaches. It's more than football."

Bonds exist beyond Fox as well. The Panthers organization announced Friday that the contracts of Fox as well as his entire coaching staff wouldn't be renewed.

After the team-wide meeting, players parted ways with their position coaches.

"It was tough. I've been here seven years, and it's the only staff I've ever known," left guard Travelle Wharton said, singling out offensive line coach Dave Magazu in the process. "I've learned a lot from him. He certainly made me a better player with the expectations he put on us in that room.

"You really didn't have any choice but to play well. That's something I'll carry with me the rest of my life."

While some of the departing coaches needed multiple boxes to clear out their offices, most players packed lighter, some stuffing the contents of their lockers into trash bags. Safety Marcus Hudson needed both hands to carry his things, so he exited the building with his helmet on his head.

The players certainly didn't want to be exiting the premises just yet, but the team's 2-14 record left the Panthers well short of qualifying for the playoffs that kick off Saturday.

"It's unfortunate that our season ended early, but there are a lot of other teams that didn't make the tournament," running back DeAngelo Williams said. "There are a lot of guys on however many teams walking out of their stadiums right now with bags of jerseys and stuff."

Players on other teams, however, left carrying a lighter load. The coaching carousel hasn't stopped spinning, but there's a good chance that Fox will be the longest-tenured coach that's changing addresses.

Sometimes, though, it's simply time to pack up and move on down the road.

"Who knows what's going to happen next year, but I have confidence in the organization that they'll make the right move," linebacker Jon Beason said. "Whoever it is, I'm going to respect him, listen to him and give effort on every play, lead by example.

"We'll be right back in the hunt. That's the beauty of starting over next year. Everyone is 0-0."

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