CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -John Fox's future in Carolina remained clouded Sunday, even after Panthers owner Jerry Richardson apparently gave his coach and general manager a vote of confidence.
The NFL Network reported during Carolina's 20-13 loss to Dallas on Saturday that Richardson said in an off-camera exchange Fox and GM Marty Hurney will return in 2008 despite a second straight season without a playoff berth.
But in keeping with his practice of not speaking to the local media, Richardson did not make himself available to answer questions about the report. Team spokesman Charlie Dayton, who repeatedly said Richardson would not comment until after the season, would not confirm the report Sunday.
``Nothing has changed,'' Dayton said.
Fox refused to discuss his future after Saturday's loss, which eliminated the Panthers (6-9) from playoff contention and assured Fox of his third losing season in six years.
``I won't address that or any conversations like that until after the season is over,'' said Fox, whose contract runs through 2010.
Hurney did not return phone messages Sunday.
Fox, who makes about $5 million a year, has been on the hot seat since a five-game losing streak following a 4-2 start. Without quarterback Jake Delhomme, lost to a season-ending right elbow injury in Week 3, the Panthers have often failed to be competitive.
Carolina has lost seven games by 13 or more points and scored seven or fewer points five times. The disappointing season included defensive tackle Kris Jenkins accusing teammates of lacking heart, and a cascade of boos at Bank of America Stadium, where Carolina lost seven straight games before beating San Francisco on Dec. 2.
Through a team spokesman, Richardson had declined numerous requests to discuss Fox's and Hurney's status before his comments to the league-owned NFL Network.
Fox, 56-47 with the Panthers, does have support among many players.
``I think Fox is the ultimate player's coach,'' rookie linebacker Jon Beason said. ``He's a good guy, great personality.''
Fox was hired in 2001, a month after the Panthers finished 1-15 under George Seifert. Two years later, Fox had the Panthers in the Super Bowl, where they lost to New England 32-29 on Adam Vinatieri's 41-yard field goal with 4 seconds left.
After going 7-9 in 2004, the Panthers lost to Seattle in the NFC championship game a year later.
Carolina entered the 2006 season with Super Bowl hopes, but stumbled to an 8-8 record. Fox then fired three assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Dan Henning.
The Panthers decided to do little in free agency in the offseason, believing they'd return to the playoffs if they stayed healthy.
They'll be out of the postseason for the fourth time in six years under Fox, and the coach has directed much of the blame on Delhomme's injury, which required reconstructive surgery.
Carolina thought it had a competent backup in David Carr, who signed a two-year, $6 million free-agent deal. But Carr has been injured and so ineffective the Panthers have used 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde and undrafted rookie Matt Moore ahead of him. That left Carr as one of the league's most expensive scout team quarterbacks.
The decision to sign Carr is one of several personnel moves that have dogged Hurney, including a series of second- and third-round draft picks that have failed to develop.
The Panthers have also been hurt by a subpar season from defensive end Julius Peppers, who has lacked explosiveness and has been held to three sacks. The Panthers have a league-low 19 sacks despite paying big money to Peppers, Jenkins and defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu.
Fox did help his cause the past two weeks, when the Panthers surprised NFC West champion Seattle 13-10 and stayed close with Dallas (13-2) on Saturday. Moore, who has started the past two games, has shown a strong arm and has thrown only one interception in two games as a starter.
``As I told the guys, when they leave the locker room, hold your head high,'' Fox said after the Dallas loss. ``That team was a little better than us. But we gave great effort and played with a lot of heart.''

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