CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - Perry Fewell’s college teammates might not have seen him as a future NFL head coach, but they noticed the qualities coaches need:
Assertiveness. Communication skills. Flexibility. Appreciation for the bigger picture.
“I think he played three or four different positions. He was certainly a team leader,” said JuJu Phillips, a wide receiver at Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory.
“He was talkative, bordering on fiery,” Phillips said of former teammate Fewell, who the Carolina Panthers named interim head coach Tuesday. “When people were having a bad practice, he was the guy who would get things together and remind us what we were doing.”
Being an interim head coach isn’t new to the 57-year-old Fewell. He was elevated to that role with the Buffalo Bills in 2009, after Dick Jauron was fired mid-season. Fewell went 3-4 the rest of that season before he and the rest of Jauron’s staff were let go.
Twice Fewell has been an NFL defensive coordinator: With the Bills from 2006 through 2009 and with the New York Giants (2010 through 2015), including the Giants’ run to the 2012 Super Bowl (a victory over the New England Patriots).
Since then, Fewell has coached defensive backs in Washington, Jacksonville (a reunion with former Giants coach Tom Coughlin, now running the Jaguars front office) and this season with the Panthers.
Phillips, now Lenoir-Rhyne’s radio play-by-play announcer, played with Fewell 1980 through 1983. He recalls how adaptive Fewell was during a coaching change, switching back-and-forth between outside linebacker, defensive end and fullback.
“He was fine with going between offense and defense. He definitely got the bigger picture,” Phillips described.
Fewell played linebacker on a South Point defense that gave up just 45 points in 10 games on the way to a state title.
“He’s a fundamentals guy: He always wanted to know why we were shading (an opposing offense) this way or that way,” said former South Point coach Phil Tate. “He was not our best athlete, but Perry was our leader. Not a hollerer, but he’d just say what needed to be said.”
Tate recalls Fewell as much for being the student-body president as a football player. He said to this day Fewell sends a Mother’s Day card to Tate’s wife annually.
Tate is convinced this could work out in a way that keeps Fewell in this job beyond the rest of this season.
“If they give him a chance to be the boss man,” Tate said, “I guarantee they will be a winning team.”