CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac joined the mass exodus of assistant coaches leaving the Carolina Panthers on Thursday, turning down a contract offer to remain on coach John Fox's dwindling staff.
Trgovac's surprising departure came the same day that secondary coach Tim Lewis accepted a similar position with the Seattle Seahawks. Fox has lost five assistants since the Panthers' upset playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Jan. 10.
Yrs. in CAR: 7
Yrs. in NFL: 14
Trgovac informed Fox and Panthers general manager Marty Hurney of his decision at Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala.
"We had offered Trgo a contract, and he informed us (Wednesday) night that he was going to pursue other options," Hurney said.
Trgovac, who had just finished his seventh season with the team, couldn't be reached for comment. His decision comes less than a week after star defensive end and impending free agent Julius Peppers announced he didn't want to return to Carolina after he becomes a free agent next month.
Peppers' position coach, Sal Sunseri, also left this week for the University of Alabama after seven seasons with the Panthers.
The other departures were for clear promotions. Linebackers coach Ken Flajole is expected to leave after six seasons in Carolina to become defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams. Quarterbacks coach Mike McCoy, who had spent nine seasons with the Panthers, was hired as the Denver Broncos' offensive coordinator.
All the assistant coaches were working under contracts that expired after this season. The team is trying to secure new deals with the rest of the staff, including offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson.
On Wednesday, the Panthers hired former Cleveland Browns quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer to replace McCoy.
"Rip has worked with offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson and should have a smooth transition to the Panthers," Fox said of Scherer. "He brings experience as well as a familiarity of our system, and we look forward to working with him."
Trgovac joined Fox's staff in 2002 as defensive line coach and was promoted to defensive coordinator one year later, when Jack Del Rio left to coach the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Panthers struggled on defense late this season, giving up 30 or more points in six of their last seven games, including a 33-13 home playoff loss to the Cardinals that came on the heels of a 12-4 regular season.
Fox, a former defensive coordinator with the New York Giants, had given Trgovac strong public support, and the two sides had discussed a two-year contract extension this week.
It's unclear how Fox will replace Trgovac and whether that decision might make Peppers reconsider his decision to want out.
Peppers' agent, Carl Carey, has said Peppers, who had a career-high 14.5 sacks this season and made his fourth Pro Bowl, was looking to play in a different defensive system so he could "reach his full potential."
Carey didn't return a phone message Thursday seeking comment.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press