So long, Softli

The Carolina Panthers have boasted one of the league's most cohesive front offices over the past four years, but the team has lost Director of College Scouting Tony Softli, who headed up the last three NFL drafts. Because he felt he'd gone as far as he could with the Panthers, Softli accepted a job as vice president of player personnel with the St. Louis Rams on June 20.

Softli had been with the Panthers since they came into the league in 1995, but took on a more prominent role in draft day decisions when he was promoted to Director of College Scouting following the retirement of Jack Bushofsky in 2003.

At this point it's unclear who'll replace Softli in Carolina.

If the Panthers hire from within, they have several area college scouts with significant experience, none more so than Jeff Morrow, a veteran of 16 NFL seasons. Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said he expects the team will interview both internal and external candidates.

Over the past three seasons, Softli, Hurney and head coach John Fox have all had equal say in draft day decisions.

The Panthers have done well with their first-round picks the past three years, netting tackle Jordan Gross in 2003, cornerback Chris Gamble in 2004 and highly touted running back DeAngelo Williams this year.

They've had a few busts such as guard Bruce Nelson, running back Eric Shelton and defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison, but have found some gems in the later rounds including wide receiver Drew Carter and tight end Michael Gaines.

Softli, 46, began working in scouting when the Panthers entered the league in 1995 and took over as director of college scouting in 2000. He is credited with helping draft standouts Julius Peppers, Steve Smith, Kris Jenkins and Dan Morgan.

Softli has ties to new Rams head coach Scott Linehan. The two worked together on the University of Washington coaching staff. Before that, Softli was a linebacker for the Huskies. The Seattle Seahawks expressed interest in Softli for their vacant general manager position last offseason but he never was granted an interview.

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