Players, coaches say Panthers face leadership void

Updated: October 24, 2012, 7:59 PM ET
Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Several coaches and players agree with ousted general manager Marty Hurney's assessment that there's a leadership void in the Panthers locker room.

After being fired Monday Hurney suggested more players need to "step and up and say enough is enough" when it comes to losing games.

He said leadership in any NFL locker room is critical -- and the young Panthers don't have enough of it.

"I think Marty hit the nail on the head," Cam Newton said.

The second-year quarterback said there is leadership to an extent, but "it's not enough consistently."

Newton's leadership skills in particular have come under fire as he's received criticism from teammate Steve Smith earlier in the year for sulking on the sidelines and more recently from national media outlets who perceived Newton as pointing fingers at others ran than himself following Sunday's 19-14 loss to Dallas.

Newton, who rarely lost in college, admits this year's rough start has tested his him.

"It's extremely hard to lead because everyone on the outside starts looking and trying to find the reason we're 1-5 when he had such high expectations," Newton said.

Coach Ron Rivera agreed with Hurney as well, saying the Panthers need more players to take on a leadership role and that if they enough don't step up than he's going to have to look for replacements.

"Not enough guys have stepped up," Rivera said. "There's the inability that some people have to do that, but those that have it need to step up and put it on the line."

Rivera said he liked when center Ryan Kalil predicted a Super Bowl win for Carolina -- an idea that now seems farfetched -- because it showed confidence.

In his eyes it showed leadership, not boastfulness.

"If the other 52 guys don't think that way, something is wrong," Rivera said.

Hurney took full responsibility for Carolina's "losing environment" after being fired, but went on to say that the Panthers need leaders to step up in the locker room, citing Tom Brady in New England and Ray Lewis in Baltimore as examples.

"One of the keys to winning in this league is the makeup of the locker room," Hurney said. "And I think that we need somebody to step up down there and take hold. ... We have young players, but at some point I think somebody needs to step up and say enough is enough. Because when it comes down to those (close) games and it comes down to those plays, I think it's a matter of confidence."

Panthers safety Haruki Nakamura spent four years playing with Lewis in Baltimore before joining the Panthers this past offseason. He went to the playoffs four straight years with the Ravens.

"The place I came from it takes more than one person," Nakamura said. "It takes everybody."

Nakamura said he doesn't think the environment in Carolina has to change.

He said the winning does, and that starts with learning how to win just one close game. He said when the Panthers do that winning will become contagious.

"The word needs to be tradition," Nakamura said. "When you hear the word change you think there are a lot of things wrong. I think the biggest thing is tradition and that comes with hard work."

On most NFL teams, the quarterback is the leader.

Hurney drafted Newton No. 1 overall last year in hopes that he'd develop into Carolina's franchise quarterback and the team's leader.

When asked specifically if Newton can be that guy, Hurney said, "he's certainly capable."

However, after an impressive rookie season in which he earned AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, Newton has struggled out of the blocks in his season and the frustration has mounted as the season has progressed.

So too has the criticism.

"This isn't an indictment on any player but I think leadership in the locker rooms are probably one of the most underrated parts of this league because the talent level is so even," Hurney said. "You look at the winning teams and there are leaders in those locker rooms and we have people who are very capable of it.

"It's a matter of people stepping up and refusing to lose."


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Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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