Q & A
Seifert on Panthers' QB situation, defensive failures
Updated: Saturday July 28, 2001 9:18 AM
One of two active two-time Super Bowl winning head coaches in the NFL, George Seifert this season enters year three of his career's second act, in Carolina. The Panthers have gone 15-17 in Seifert's first two seasons, and are in a transition stage that might make it difficult to even challenge the .500 mark in 2001. Seifert sat down with SI's Don Banks on Friday at training camp in Spartanburg, S.C., and discussed the hot topics that surround his Panthers:
Don Banks: You obviously decided this club had to get younger and quicker this season. What was the mentality behind that shift in focus?
George Seifert: When I first got here in 1999, I didn't know the club and there wasn't a heck of a lot of depth and we went out and got some free-agent depth. We had a better year than some people thought we might have, and we did well on offense. Not very well on defense, though.
So last year we said we're going to go for it on defense (in free agency and the draft). And then our offense, for whatever reasons -- I'm still somewhat mystified by it -- didn't perform as well. Defensively we did get better. But it was a patchwork type of thing and we said we're not getting it done this way. We're not only not winning the number of games that we want to win in the regular season, but we don't seem to be putting together anything for the long haul of the franchise.
And so it was kind of time to suck it up and look at the season as important to us, but to shift the mentality a little further into the future. It's not like we're just building for next year, but we've got more of an eye on the foundation of the operation and want to do what we can do to make sure the club is solid over a period of time.
Banks: How do you classify the high-priced experiment on the defensive line last season, in which you signed Chuck Smith, Reggie White and Eric Swann? A failure or just a bit of bad luck?
Seifert: Well, we failed. We didn't get it done. The defense was better, but as far as Chuck Smith, we had great expectations for him. But for the medical reasons that we're all aware of, it didn't work out. It was a failure because it didn't work.
And Eric Swann didn't play a heck of a lot. Reggie, that signing was good. He gave us a good season and he came up with some key plays. In a couple of big games, like our first win over St. Louis, he came up with some big sacks at critical times. Even though he didn't come up with as many sacks as in the past, the mentality was still there at the right time to come up with that play. Which you have to have.
That's one thing we're concerned about this year: We don't show at this point that we have that player who knows when we have to come up with the big sack. I think the other thing that may have happened is, 'OK, we got all these guys, now they're going to win all these games for us.' And there might have been some other people who said '[quarterback Steve] Beuerlein's going to get it all done on offense and the defensive line is going to get it all done on defense.' And that just didn't happen.
Banks: The decision to release Steve Beuerlein this offseason, and go into camp without a quarterback who has started an NFL game, was that the boldest thing you've done in your head-coaching career?
Seifert: The situation in San Francisco with Joe Montana and Steve Young, I don't know if that can ever be dwarfed. But I did have Steve Young in the wings and I knew more about him and the organization than is the case here. So that was a safer move. With this one, your [neck is] out there.
I still anguish about it. There's a part of me now that says it was a foolish move. But at the same time, looking at the picture as we did, we felt Steve [Beuerlein] could play another year for us, but we still wouldn't find out about what we've got long term. We would be treading water.
So we said, 'Hey, let's do this, and if we fail, well we know where the hell we are. We know we better get on our horse and get somebody for the future.' So that was the decision. Then in the draft, we had no vision we could get [Chris] Weinke there or anybody like him. But now all of a sudden that's thrown into the mix.
Banks: It's very early to assess Jeff Lewis as a starting quarterback, but what does he give you?
Seifert: We think he has a chance to be good, but it's early. I can't sit here right now and say he's going to be a sterling success. I can't. There's some good things, and there's been some things I'm anguishing over. But I think this system can be quarterback friendly, and if he doesn't try to go beyond the system, it'll work for him.
He didn't have a lot of playing time in the last two games of this last season, but what he did have I thought he did a pretty good job with. There are times he'll press a little, but Steve Young did some of that, too.
Banks: Does Chris Weinke's learning curve have to be so much steeper given that you have no veteran backup?
Seifert: He seems to be pretty mature and calculating and cool. He's just out there competing. He doesn't seem to be pressing. I've been impressed with his poise. He's certainly going after the starting spot. And that's good. I haven't noticed it hurting him.
Banks: While you have presented Jeff Lewis with an opportunity to win the No. 1 job, you have not ruled out anyone at this point, correct?
Seifert: That's right. I'd have to step up and make a decision if the performance on the field dictates it.
Banks: It is realistic to expect that it may be October before you really see any production out of receiver Patrick Jeffers, who is experiencing continued troubles stemming from surgeries on both knees?
Seifert: I don't think that's unrealistic. I don't want to burden him with that. But [kicker] John Kasay was told he wasn't going to kick until a month from now and he's way ahead [in his knee rehabilitation]. [Tight end] Wesley Walls appears to be way ahead. So you put that out there, and that's what should be the case. But at the same time these guys are pretty competitive and work hard and you never know.
Banks: There's always pressure to win in this league, but do you perceive any sense of urgency for you to take this program beyond the realm of .500 this season, in your third year?
Seifert: That's difficult to answer and it's because I've never not felt that urgency. Even in the years I was in San Francisco. ... Even though I'm in, I think, my 37th year of coaching, my mentality is like that. I can't shake it.
The only difference is I'm maybe more mature to a point where I've got to maybe realize myself, 'Hey, maybe I shouldn't do this anymore. Maybe I don't have it.' I don't say I feel that way right now, but I think I can understand and have a sense of that more than in the past.
That said, I don't sense any increased sense of urgency. We've stated that obviously this year is important. But we're trying to build for the future of the franchise. Whether I'm the coach or not. I don't want to take a bullet this year. I'll do everything I can not to. But at the same time we're keeping an eye on what's going to be left long-term, whether I'm here or gone.