New coordinator Meeks inherits Panthers defense that struggled late

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers quickly filled their defensive coordinator vacancy, hiring Ron Meeks on Monday to replace Mike Trgovac.

Four days after Trgovac abruptly left after being offered a contract extension, the Panthers turned their struggling defense to Meeks, who spent the past seven seasons running the Indianapolis Colts' unit.

While the Colts are best known for their offense, they finished in the top seven in points allowed five times during Meeks' tenure. Indianapolis won the Super Bowl in the 2006 season and led the NFL in scoring defense in 2007.

Meeks left the Colts after Tony Dungy stepped down as head coach at the end of this season.

"He's an outstanding teacher who has enjoyed great success as a coordinator in the league and brings a strong background of coaching championship defenses," said Panthers coach John Fox, who has seen five assistants step down since the team's divisional-round loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs.

Meeks, 54, will take over a Carolina defense that grew worse later in the season. The Panthers allowed 30 or more points in six of their last seven games, including in the 33-13 loss to the Cardinals.

Carolina also might have to deal with the departure of four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers, an impending free agent who has said he wants to play elsewhere next season.

"This is a great opportunity," Meeks said in a statement released by the team. "I have followed the Panthers from my involvement in football, and they have done a great job over the years. I expect to continue that success while trying to improve as well."

Meeks also will have to mesh with Fox, who had taken an active role in Trgovac's defense the past two seasons. Trgovac, who had finished his seventh season on Fox's staff and his sixth year running the defense, turned down a two-year contract extension.

The Panthers went with Meeks instead of pursuing other former NFL head coaches such as Jim Haslett and Herm Edwards, who was a college teammate of Fox.

Meeks began his coaching career at his alma mater, Arkansas State, in 1984 and spent seven seasons in the college ranks before landing a job on the Dallas Cowboys' staff. He served as a secondary coach for the Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons and later was an assistant for the St. Louis Rams' NFC title team in 2001. He moved to Indianapolis one year later.

The Panthers also must replace three defensive assistants: linebackers coach Ken Flajole, defensive line coach Sal Sunseri and secondary coach Tim Lewis. Flajole left to become the Rams' defensive coordinator, Sunseri took a job at the University of Alabama and Lewis become the Seattle Seahawks' secondary coach.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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