Smith pleased to be Panther for life

When Steve Smith signed the four-year contract extension that should enable him to retire a Panther, he said keeping things right at home was the reason. "Happy wife, happy life," he joked.

When Steve Smith signed the four-year contract extension that should enable him to retire a Panther, he said keeping things right at home was the reason.

"Happy wife, happy life," he joked.

But while his marriage is a long one, it's the new relationships he had to forge that made the new contract possible.

Smith was disaffected and dissatisfied with the previous coaching staff, particularly the heavy-handed control former head coach John Fox had over the offense. It's nothing new for Smith to pout -- he's a receiver, he wants the ball. In fact, he used to mutter about former offensive coordinator Dan Henning, even when the veteran assistant declared a "feed the stud" program in 2005 which saw him lead the league in receptions, yards and touchdowns for a team that ran the ball more than it passed.

But the marriage between he and the Panthers was on the rocks after the 2010 season in which he caught 46 passes, his fewest in a healthy season since his rookie year. The unsettled quarterback situation didn't help, but Smith was generally unhappy, and needed a change.

Smith never said as much publicly, but he wanted out, and a few calls were made. Ultimately, the combination of coach Ron Rivera, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and quarterback Cam Newton got him back in the boat.

"The coaches and the players -- the organization -- with the things that they're doing, it makes it real to easy to pretty much sign anything," Smith said. "I respect coach (Ron) Rivera a lot. He has pushed me to grow and really examine what options I can bring to the table.

"That's been very enjoyable, and this is a great opportunity to continue to make a stronger foundation with what we're already building."

Smith responded to the renewed attention with 79 catches for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns, his best season since the Panthers' 2008 division-title team. As impressive as any of his stats was his 17.6 yards per catch average at age 32, when many thought his big-play ability was gone.

What made him happiest, however, was simply being central to the passing game for a competitive team. Quarterback Cam Newton's ability to get him the ball downfield was missing since Jake Delhomme's last good year, but bouncing back to a four-win improvement last year was the thing that sparked Smith.

"It was kind of a rebirth, an opportunity for him to get a second chance at things," Rivera said. "Once things started happening at the beginning of the season, you could see that he truly believed in what we were doing.

"The day after he made the Pro Bowl, he came up and told me, 'Thank you. I appreciate you wanting me to be a part of this.' I told him, 'No, thank you for wanting to be here.'"


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