Seifert Gives Panthers A Sporting Chance The Coach Wants To Prove That He Can Build A Champion Himself.

Posted: September 09, 1999

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — The fish and game around the globe can breathe easy for a while. George Seifert has returned to football.

Seifert, an avid outdoorsman, has put away his tackle box and guns, but he is still hunting.

The 59-year-old coach, in his first season with the Carolina Panthers, is hunting victories and a championship.

There are those who say that Seifert is seeking to prove he can win with a team forged by his own wits, not those of Bill Walsh.

Having won Super Bowls XXIV and XXIX and compiling the best winning percentage in NFL history - he coached the San Francisco 49ers to a 108-35 record (.755) between 1989 and 1996 - Seifert is still viewed by many as the guy who was handed the reins by Walsh.

Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and Roger Craig were in full flower when Seifert started as head coach, and the 49ers won the Super Bowl in his first year at the helm.

Seifert helped the 49ers make NFC championship games in five of his eight years there. However, like Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson - who has been reduced to "the guy who rode Michael Jordan to the top" - Seifert has been defined as the guy who rode Steve Young.

Unfair? Probably.

"Well, [that perception] certainly does exist," said Seifert, standing near the field-house door at the Panthers' training camp at Wofford College. "And I guess if we were to do well, it would dispel that. And if we don't do well, it doesn't make any difference anyway."

Seifert isn't taking the bait. He knows it was his energy that went into those eight glorious years in San Francisco. It was his presence that helped that thoroughbred of a team run so well.

When Walsh came back as a consultant in 1996, it was clear that the team suddenly had too many riders for the horse to carry.

"I have a responsibility here to get this program on track, just like I had the responsibility in San Francisco to keep it on track," Seifert said. "And no matter what happens here, I feel like that period in San Francisco was, for the most part, successful. And I don't care for what reasons people might think. It was a successful reign and it can't be taken away from me."

After making it to the NFC title game three years ago, the Panthers went 4-12 last season. Carolina is a team in transition, one that reached those heights quickly under coach Dom Capers because it had a nucleus of veteran players. Last year, however, those veterans suddenly became too old or too beaten up.

So the fans are banking on Seifert's 49ers pedigree to make a difference. In the dressing room, it already has.

"Well, it definitely commands a lot of respect from the players," tight end Wesley Walls said. "The coach tells you something and he'll say, 'Look, I've been on teams in the past that have won championships, and we've done this and that.' You kind of pay more attention to that because he's telling the truth."

Steve Beuerlein, the Panthers' starting quarterback, concurred.

"That resume definitely carries some weight," he said. "Players respect that. You don't have to talk about it. It speaks for itself.

"Everybody knows what he's accomplished as a head coach and what his teams have been like and what they have accomplished. So when he says something, we do it without asking any questions. That's what a coach of his magnitude brings to the table."

It is also significant that Seifert, a native San Franciscan, is comfortable in this progressive southern atmosphere.

Jerry Jones talked to him about coaching the Dallas Cowboys before the 1998 season. Carmen Policy tried to get his ear when Policy was named president of the Cleveland Browns. He was said to be at or near the top of the list for jobs in Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago and Baltimore.

Some NFL insiders thought that Seifert settled on Carolina because he was given control of player personnel matters, but he said it was more than that.

"I felt good about the situation," said Seifert, making certain to praise owner Jerry Richardson, "and everything was sort of cut and dry as far as responsibilities and contractually. And I felt that there was a commitment here, and away we went."

Seifert said he had many of the same feelings with other clubs that he visited, but "for a lot of personal reasons, I decided to come here."

For example, North Carolina is on the Atlantic coast, and Seifert still tells of how he once caught a 165-pound marlin and a 125-pound sailfish. In addition, Ericsson Stadium is a state-of-the-art facility. And then there's Seifert's laid-back personality.

"Personality?" Walls said. "George is George. It's hard to label George's personality. He's a head coach, and you don't really want to know him that well."

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