We’re now entering the final quarter of the 2023 NFL regular season, and we’ve already had two in-season head coaching changes — the Las Vegas Raiders fired Josh McDaniels and the Carolina Panthers fired Frank Reich — which is certainly not the norm.
That might just be the beginning. There’s a feeling in some coaching circles and with some coaching agents that we could see as many as seven or eight total head coaching changes after the regular season concludes.
The Panthers moved on from Reich less than one season into his four-year contract last week, and the Raiders fired McDaniels right after the NFL trade deadline concluded on Oct.
With that in mind, let’s go inside the Panthers‘ upcoming search…
The Latest Carolina Panthers Coaching News
The focus for Carolina’s new head coach, as it was after last season, is expected to be on the offensive side of the ball, league sources said.
The Panthers knew last January that they likely would be drafting a quarterback in the first round and wanted someone to help develop that player.
That new coach and his coaching staff will be responsible for not only developing quarterback Bryce Young, but to bring in an offensive scheme that takes advantage of the talent level of the roster, a source familiar with the situation said.
Some veteran players who were expected to be big contributors under Reich, such as running back Miles Sanders and tight end Hayden Hurst have not produced anywhere close to the productivity that was expected. That is part of the reason Reich was let go before the end of his first season with the team.
Sanders, who signed a four-year deal worth just over $24 million, was coming off a career season with the Philadelphia Eagles, so it’s understandable why they pursued him in free agency. But he lost the starting job after Carolina’s fifth game to third-year RB Chuba Hubbard.
Sources confirmed Sanders is owed just over $6.2 million in total compensation next season, of which $6 million is fully guaranteed.
And Hurst, who signed a three-year deal worth just under $22 million, is owed a total of $8 million next season, of which just over $5.7 million is fully guaranteed.
Not only will the new head coach be responsible for maximizing those two veterans, but for an offense that the team believed has underachieved overall.
Potential Panthers Head Coach Candidates
With that being the case, here is our initial list of the top candidates for this year’s search — mostly from the offensive side of the ball, with a few high-quality defensive candidates as well.
Ben Johnson | Detroit Lions OC
The Panthers, a source familiar with the team’s thinking, had “serious” interest in Ben Johnson prior to him deciding to stay with the Lions for another season after Carolina put their request in to interview him last January.
Johnson initially was supposed to take the interview with the Panthers but canceled and ultimately decided to stay with Detroit for another season, his second calling the plays.
However, that’s not expected to stop the Panthers from wanting to talk to him this time around, another source said. Johnson is widely seen as the top head coaching candidate in personnel circles for the next head coaching cycle.
What the Panthers and other teams really like about Johnson is the development of the Lions’ offense, the diverse use of personnel, and the improvement from veteran QB Jared Goff over the last two seasons.
Brian Johnson | Philadelphia Eagles OC
A source with knowledge of the situation said Carolina did their homework on Brian Johnson during last year’s search, so the team is well aware of him already.
But the work they did on him was as a possible offensive coordinator. The Eagles, however, promoted Johson from quarterbacks coach to replace Shane Steichen, who was hired as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
Johnson has been largely credited, along with Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni, for the development of quarterback Jalen Hurts over the last two seasons. That hasn’t been lost on the Panthers or other teams, which is why Johnson is expected to be on their radar again — yet this time around for their head coaching opening.
And Johnson, who is believed to have called offensive plays in college at three different stops, is in his first year calling the plays with Philadelphia.
Sirianni handed over the offensive play-calling to Steichen near the midway point of his first season with the team in 2021, and Johnson was his logical successor due to his work with Hurts and the fact that he had previous play-calling experience.
Johnson is well respected around the NFL and is expected to draw not only the attention of the Panthers, but other openings as well that come up in January.
Eric Bieniemy | Washington Commanders OC
It’s not a secret that Eric Bieniemy wants to be a head coach, and he’s done an outstanding job of getting second-year quarterback Sam Howell to take a big step forward in his development in his first year as a full-time starter.
Bieniemy has done this despite having one of the NFL’s least talented offensive lines while running a lot of the Kansas City Chiefs offensive scheme.
Kellen Moore | Los Angeles Chargers OC
Known for being a very aggressive play-caller and forward-thinking in personnel circles, Kellen Moore could be on the Panthers’ radar again, as he interviewed for their head coaching opening previously.
Brian Callahan | Cincinnati Bengals OC
While he doesn’t call the plays (head coach Zac Taylor does), Brian Callahan has worked closely with quarterback Joe Burrow since Burrow was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
When looking to hire an offensive head coach, teams typically will look at who is developing the quarterback, which Callahan has certainly had a hand in.
Shane Waldron | Seattle Seahawks OC
While the team’s record is only .500 as we enter Week 14, it’s not Shane Waldon‘s fault. He’s actually been a big reason for the surprising development starting last season of journeyman quarterback Geno Smith.
Waldron has gotten rave reviews in coaching circles for the development of the Seahawks’ offensive scheme over the last two seasons. What also should help him get some attention from Carolina or any team with an opening is that he comes from the coaching tree of Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay and coached under him for five seasons in two stops.
Bobby Slowik | Houston Texans OC
The son of former long-time NFL defensive assistant coach Bob Slowik, Bobby Slowik has done an outstanding job of running his version of the San Francisco 49ers offensive scheme and rapidly developing rookie QB C.J. Stroud, who is the obvious choice at this point for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
A coaching source who has worked with Slowik in the past said he’s “very smart” and has a “good understanding” of how to use offensive personnel, which has been quite evident so far this season with the Texans.
Slowik turns just 37 in June and is in his first year calling the plays, but he’s still likely to draw attention from other teams due to the major improvement of Houston’s offense this season and for his work with his first-year signal-caller.
Dan Quinn | Dallas Cowboys DC
Dan Quinn will likely be the top head coaching candidate from the defensive side of the ball for many searches based on his body of work and how well-respected he is around the NFL.
The former Atlanta Falcons head coach did reach the Super Bowl with his former team (2016 season) and has done a tremendous job of turning around the Cowboys’ defense after the team moved on from Mike Nolan as their DC after the 2020 season.
Quinn, who worked with some of the Panthers’ front office members with the Seahawks years ago, is believed to be one of the highest-paid, if not, the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the NFL.
However, as is the case with many defensive candidates, Quinn will have to put together a good offensive staff capable of developing a team’s QB; in this case, a young one, should the Panthers look his way.
Ejiro Evero | Carolina Panthers DC
In speaking with some teams that have played the Panthers this season, Ejiro Evero‘s scheme — which is his version of Vic Fangio’s system — has been very effective, and it’s very clear the Panthers’ defense has been competitive in most games.
Evero actually was one of nine candidates who interviewed for the head coaching job last January. It would be a surprise if he didn’t get considered this time around to get another interview — considering how good of a job he has done so far and during his time calling Denver’s defense last season.
Jim Harbaugh | Michigan Head Coach
Let’s not forget that Jim Harbaugh took the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance (2012 season) and has won big everywhere he has coached over the years at the college (Michigan, Stanford, San Diego) and pro level (San Francisco).
Also keep in mind it was Panthers’ owner David Tepper’s idea to interview Sean Payton before he was hired as the Broncos head coach, which shows Tepper is willing to swing for the fences with a head coaching hire.
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