CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson held a two-day retreat with coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney last week to discuss next season, the strongest signal yet that Richardson plans to retain both men.
``Mr. Richardson has been extremely supportive throughout,'' Hurney said Monday. ``He's also an extremely competitive person that wants to win more than anybody. He understands the makeup and the elements that go into winning football teams. It was a very constructive and detailed conversation.''
The meeting late last week at one of Richardson's vacation homes included talk of what the team needs to do to get back into the playoffs after consecutive non-winning seasons fueled speculation about Fox and Hurney's future.
While Richardson was out of town Monday and continued his silence on the issue, Hurney left the meeting thinking that both men's jobs were safe.
``This season coming up is an extremely important one,'' Hurney acknowledged. ``I think we have the advantage of being able to look back at what we have done when we did win consistently and make the playoffs and get to the Super Bowl and make another NFC championship game. I think it was a very constructive, beneficial meeting.''
Fox, who has three years left on a contract that pays him about $5 million a season, is 56-49 in six seasons with one Super Bowl berth and another appearance in the NFC championship game.
But in the past two seasons the Panthers are 15-17 and have had a series of disappointing draft picks and personnel moves, opening speculation that the sometimes impatient Richardson would make major changes.
During the Panthers' loss to Dallas on Dec. 22, the NFL Network reported Richardson indicated in a brief exchange that Fox and Hurney would return next season. But for more than two weeks, Richardson has declined comment and a team spokesman has refused to confirm the report.
Hurney said the meetings on Thursday and Friday showed that Richardson plans to give them a chance to turn things around.
``We've always been on the same page, but it just confirmed that we are on the same page as far as what we need to do and what we want our personality to be,'' Hurney said.
It was the second time in less than a year that the 71-year-old Richardson has called a summit at his lake house.
In May, Richardson had what he called a ``bonding experience'' with players Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith, Jordan Gross, DeShaun Foster and Julius Peppers in hopes of erasing memories of Carolina's 8-8 season in 2006.
Fox and Hurney then did little to that roster in the offseason except release receiver Keyshawn Johnson and sign former Houston starting quarterback David Carr to a two-year, $6 million deal.
The Panthers then lost Delhomme to a season-ending right elbow injury in Week 3. Carr took over and was quickly injured, only to return and be so ineffective the Panthers finished the season with 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde and undrafted rookie Matt Moore splitting time at QB.
Rookie Dwayne Jarrett, drafted to replace Johnson, struggled to learn the playbook and spent most of the season on the inactive list. That left no effective No. 2 receiver opposite Smith.
The Panthers often failed to be competitive before a late-season surge left them 7-9, leaving Richardson with many questions for Fox and Hurney.
``It was a very detailed and thorough discussion of what we need to do to get back to where we want to be,'' Hurney said. ``To get the personality of our football team to where we want it to be, to reach our goal of winning football games and making the playoff consistently with the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl.''
The Panthers will likely be busy tweaking the roster this offseason. Carolina, which holds the 13th pick in the draft, could make several changes to the offensive and defensive lines, and needs to find another receiver.

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