CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -A day after Carolina finished out of the playoffs for the second straight year, John Fox remained confident that he'll return as the Panthers' coach.
He just won't be sure until owner Jerry Richardson says so.
When asked Monday if Richardson would finally address the status of Fox and general manager Marty Hurney, team spokesman Charlie Dayton said, ``I don't think so.''
It meant a day of uncertainty at Bank of America Stadium as players gathered for final physicals and a team meeting before leaving with their belongings for the offseason. Not only do many players worry if they'll be back after a disappointing 7-9 campaign that's sure to bring many changes, they don't know about their coach.
``I haven't been told anything,'' running back DeAngelo Williams said.
Later in the morning, an evasive Fox indicated he expects to return for a seventh season.
``Our ownership has been very supportive, very positive,'' said Fox, who has three years left on a contract that pays him about $5 million per season. ``I never have foreseen changes with Marty or myself, and I don't anticipate them moving forward. I don't have a crystal ball. I can't predict the future. There has been plenty of speculation, I will say that. But I don't see it changing from any years past.''
The speculation has been fueled by a second straight sub-par season and Richardson's refusal to address the situation.
The NFL Network reported during Carolina's loss to Dallas on Dec. 22 that Richardson said in an off-camera interview that Fox and Hurney's jobs were safe. But team officials declined to confirm the report, and Richardson wasn't talking again on Monday.
When Fox was asked Monday if Richardson has told him he'll be retained, he referred to how he answered the same question after Sunday's 31-23 win over Tampa Bay. When asked if that meant he wasn't commenting, Fox replied, ``That is what I said yesterday.''
Following a season of unfilled expectations and injuries, Fox has pinned much of the blame for Carolina's second straight non-winning campaign on the loss of quarterback Jake Delhomme. He had a season-ending right elbow injury in Week 3.
The Panthers then turned to David Carr, who was Carolina's only major offseason acquisition. Despite his two-year, $6 million deal, Carr was a bust. He got hurt and then was so ineffective, the Panthers turned to 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde and undrafted rookie Matt Moore to finish the season.
Behind Moore, the Panthers did rally to win two of their last three games. Perhaps that was enough for Fox, who is 56-49 in Carolina with one Super Bowl appearance and a trip to the NFC championship game in 2005, to keep his job.
``I've got three years left on my contract that I intend to uphold,'' Fox said. ``I'll just say that.''
Hurney has also said he plans to be back next season. Fox said they'll begin a series of meetings on Wednesday to evaluate the season and prepare for free agency.
It was also clear on Monday that Fox has the support of his players.
``Where would you find someone (to replace him)? It doesn't happen,'' Delhomme said. ``John is the right guy. It's been evident. We didn't play that well this season and he will be the first to tell you that 'Maybe I should have done a better job of coaching.'
``That's John. He's going to take the blame. And the one thing about him is he knows how to work.''
The Panthers have plenty to work on. Delhomme said his rehabilitation remains on schedule and he hopes to start throwing by the middle of February. Whether he can effectively return from reconstructive surgery may determine Carolina's fortunes.
The Panthers must also decide whether to pay big money to re-sign unrestricted free agent tackle Jordan Gross and whether to give defensive end Julius Peppers, coming off a hugely disappointing season, a mega deal.
Defensive end Mike Rucker will likely retire, although he again wasn't saying for sure on Monday.
But Rucker was adamant that Fox should be back next season.
``He's a coach that when we're coming off as a defense, he's the first one to give you a high-five or try to pump you up,'' Rucker said. ``You don't see that a whole lot in coaches nowadays. I think he's one of the few that can charge you up. He's definitely a guy you want coaching your football team.''

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