The Panthers are the first NFL team to enter the 2022–23 head coaching carousel after firing Matt Rhule on Monday. While this is sometimes a dubious distinction for a team to have to dismiss its coach so early in the season, it’s also an advantage for the right people. Owner David Tepper could have a fall and winter akin to that of Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles’ owner, a few years ago, when Lurie parted ways with Chip Kelly and used the remaining time in the season to poll players and learn what they’d like in a new coach.
The result was Doug Pederson, who led the franchise to its only Super Bowl victory. Or he could have a fall and winter like John Mara experienced a few years back, resulting in the hiring of Pat Shurmur (after Ben McAdoo was fired in-season). After a second attempt (after an in-season Joe Judge firing), he wound up with Brian Daboll.
Who are the Panthers going to hire? I’ve compiled a list of more than 60 qualified coaches here, plus some background information if you’d like to start your own campaign for a certain candidate.
But consider this post an individual prescription based on what the Panthers currently look like and where they’ll be in the future. I’ve divided the categories into two branches. The Panthers should either shoot for a coach who has held the position before or a coach who can instantly inject the offense with some life, especially if (and when) they add their new franchise quarterback.
Experience, experience, experience
The Panthers are going to bottom out before they get good again. This roster is similar to the one Robert Saleh walked into when he took the Jets’ job, albeit with a slightly more stable offensive line and a few more pieces defensively. Which means it might be a job for a coach who has held the position before and can navigate some of the murkier water. Here’s who fits this category:
Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator, Cowboys
Quinn took the Falcons to the Super Bowl and is a relentless source of positivity. He’ll have access to some quality offensive coaches, such as Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, and he’ll be able to put together an adequate defense in the time being with the pieces left behind. Assuming Tom Brady leaves the division this year, a Quinn regime can help the Panthers move up and out of the doldrums faster.
Raheem Morris, defensive coordinator, Rams
Morris is intriguing in that he can manage the defense, run the team from a CEO perspective (he was both a full-time head coach in Tampa and an interim head coach in Atlanta) and bring with him one of Sean McVay’s assistants to run the offense. (Tight ends coach Thomas Brown and pass-game coordinator Zac Robinson are names that stand out.) Morris, like Quinn, has the ability to draw on previous experiences and has experience running rosters that are not yet ready to compete.
Rich Bisaccia, special teams coordinator, Packers
A wild card, especially given that he wasn’t on my head coaching list, but here’s my pitch: Bisaccia, like Morris, is an offensive coach gold mine. I would not be worried about him struggling to find a quality OC given that, all the way from the top of their offensive staff to assistant offensive line coach (Ryan Mahaffey), there are coaches people are buzzing about in the NFL. Bisaccia can also handle the chaos (he guided the Raiders to the playoffs after John Gruden was fired), and, while Carolina is a smaller market, it’s not going to be easy to rebuild this franchise overnight. His personable approach could go a long way toward shepherding the franchise in a good direction.
The play-caller for their rookie QB
Here is our other option: Find the whisperer. The Panthers are going to have a new quarterback in 2023, and they could try to legitimize their offense quickly before bringing the rest of the team along. The division is in relative shambles, which could earn the team a quicker playoff berth and a shorter rebuilding process. Some candidates:
Shane Steichen, offensive coordinator, Eagles
Steichen is our No. 1 candidate for this year. After fostering the development of both Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts, he’d inspire some confidence in growing a rookie quarterback such as Bryce Young, CJ Stroud or Will Levis. As a checkdown guru, he could also get the most out of Christian McCaffrey in the interim, should the Panthers keep him for the long term.
Kellen Moore, offensive coordinator, Cowboys
If the Cooper Rush experience didn’t solidify Moore as a quality offensive coach, I’m not sure what will. The Panthers will look like a less-talented version of the Cowboys minus Dak Prescott next year, which means some ingenuity and a deep bag of creative play-calls goes a long way. Moore had impressive interviews in 2021–22 and will likely headline many teams’ searches this offseason.
Mike Kafka, offensive coordinator, Giants
Like Moore, Kafka is making some chicken salad in New York with stunning results. Long believed to be the next big Andy Reid assistant hired, Kafka decided to break with his mentor in Kansas City and carve out a role in a Chiefs-Bills hybrid offense with the Giants. There is something special happening in East Rutherford right now, and, Kafka, who helped in the development of Patrick Mahomes and the rebuilding of Daniel Jones, could be a solid, QB-centric mentor for whomever the Panthers decide to hire.
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