Frank Reich Fired: Potential Panthers Head Coach Replacements Include Dan Quinn and Jim Harbaugh

Frank Reich is out in Carolina. The Panthers have fired their head coach in-season for the second consecutive year. Where will Carolina turn now?

Frank Reich is (less than) one and done. The Carolina Panthers have fired their first-year head coach following a 1-10 start. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor will become Carolina’s interim head coach.

Owner David Tepper has now fired his head coach during the season for the second consecutive year. In 2022, the Panthers moved on from Matt Rhule after Week 5, installing defensive coordinator Steve Wilks as the club’s interim HC.

Reich was supposed to put a stop to that turnover and chart a new course in Carolina. How did Reich’s plan erode so quickly, and who might replace him as the Panthers’ head coach?

Panthers Fire Frank Reich

Issues between Reich and Tepper may have developed as early as the 2023 NFL Draft, when Reich and the majority of Carolina’s coaching staff reportedly preferred Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud to Alabama’s Bryce Young.

The Panthers sent a package of picks and veteran wide receiver DJ Moore to the Chicago Bears to acquire the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, hoping to reset their organizational path with a franchise quarterback.

Carolina rolled with Young, who may have been Tepper’s choice. With a poor offensive line and little help around him, Young has struggled and ranks ahead of only the New York Jets’ Zach Wilson in QBR. Meanwhile, Stroud has starred for the Houston Texans, tossing 17 touchdowns against five interceptions and lapping the Offensive Rookie of the Year field.

For the most part, the Panthers have only looked competitive against subpar teams. Ironically, their only victory of the season came against Stroud’s Texans in Week 8. Week 13’s 17-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans has instead become the norm.

Sunday’s defeat was clearly the breaking point for Tepper. With a chance to extend the game on a fourth-quarter 4th-and-6 attempt, Reich — who reclaimed play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Thomas Brown heading into Week 11 — ran a wide receiver screen that came up short of the sticks.

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After the game, Tepper was visibly frustrated. He didn’t speak with Reich after the loss and was seen walking out of the locker room, shaking his head, and yelling, “F–k!”

Reich is gone, and general manager Scott Fitterer could be next. Fitterer survived Rhule’s firing and stuck around after the Panthers brought Reich in as head coach. But Carolina’s next HC will likely enter the fray with more power and may want to add their own voice in the club’s front office.

Who will lead the Panthers on the sidelines in 2024? Here are the top five candidates.

Panthers Head Coaching Candidates

Ben Johnson, OC, Detroit Lions

Ben Johnson probably could have been the Panthers’ head coach in 2023 had he wanted to be. The Lions’ offensive play-caller was reportedly in the lead for Carolina’s top job during last offseason’s hiring cycle but decided to stick in Detroit for one more year.

Johnson is fully expected to land a head coaching gig in 2024, and the Panthers will surely be interested again. Detroit’s offense hasn’t dropped off — the unit is still fourth in yards per play and eighth in efficiency despite skill-position and OL injuries.

The only problem? Johnson could have his choice of landing spots around the NFL, and the Panthers — with limited draft capital, uncertainty under center, and an impatient owner — might not be at the top of his list.

Mike Macdonald, DC, Baltimore Ravens

Few units have been as impressive this season as the Ravens’ defense, led by second-year coordinator Mike Macdonald. Baltimore runs every coverage under the sun and paces the league in sacks despite not rostering a top-end pass rusher.

Macdonald is still just 36 years old and has recent collegiate experience as Michigan’s defensive coordinator in 2021. He and Johnson should be the top two assistants available on next year’s head coaching circuit.

Dan Quinn, DC, Dallas Cowboys

Like Johnson, Dan Quinn probably could have grabbed an HC position during the 2023 offseason. But he stayed on as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, earning a hefty raise from owner Jerry Jones.

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The Panthers didn’t interview Quinn earlier this year, but it’s hard to imagine he won’t be on their list in 2024. Dallas’ defense remains among the best in the league, ranking fifth in points allowed per snap (1.56).

Jim Harbaugh, HC, University of Michigan

Will Jim Harbaugh ever leave Michigan for the NFL? If the Wolverines win the national title this year, will that make Harbaugh more or less likely to stay in Ann Arbor?

We don’t know the answers to these questions, and Harbaugh might not, either. But Tepper — the NFL’s third-richest owner — has the deep pockets necessary to convince Harbaugh to return to the pros.

Brian Flores, DC, Minnesota Vikings

Don’t look now, but the Vikings’ defense is up to No. 8 in efficiency. The same unit that struggled under former DC Ed Donatell is now thriving under first-year play-caller Brian Flores, who’s running arguably the most unique defense in the NFL.

Minnesota blitzes on a league-high 47.4% of its plays, but they also rush three more than any team in the NFL. Flores, who went 24-25 in three seasons as the Miami Dolphins head coach, may have learned from mistakes — especially interpersonal issues in the locker room — during his first HC stint.

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