Panthers Hire Frank Reich: Projecting the Rest of the NFL Head Coaching Hires

Four NFL head coaching jobs remain vacant after the Carolina Panthers landed on Frank Reich. Who's in the lead in Arizona, Denver, Houston, and Indianapolis?

The Carolina Panthers became the first NFL team to fill their head coaching vacancy this offseason, announcing Thursday that they’ve hired former Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich. Carolina conducted a wide-ranging search in which 10 candidates were interviewed, and Reich beat out interim head coach Steve Wilks for the job.

The Panthers’ position is now filled, but there are still four teams — the Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, and Indianapolis Colts — still looking for their next head coach. How does Carolina’s decision to hire Reich affect those clubs’ searches, and who’s in the lead to fill those spots?

How the Panthers-Frank Reich Marriage Affects the NFL Head Coaching Circuit

Reich, who posted a 40-33-1 record as the Colts’ head coach from 2018-2022, was a quarterback for the Panthers during their inaugural season in 1995, so this is a homecoming of sorts.

The 61-year-old Reich had been viewed as a potential offensive coordinator candidate around the NFL, but he had also garnered head coaching interest from teams besides Carolina. The Cardinals interviewed Reich in mid-January, and he was mentioned as a candidate for the Broncos before Denver moved in a different direction.

Now that one head coaching domino has fallen, let’s run through the other vacancies and project who will emerge with top jobs in the coming days or weeks.

Arizona Cardinals

Leading candidate: Brian Flores

Arizona was the only team with a head coach opening that also had to hire a new general manager. The Cardinals landed former Titans executive Monti Ossenfort on Jan. 16, and their HC search didn’t really get going until he got to town.

Thus far, Arizona has met with six candidates. Dan Quinn is the only coach who’s interviewed with the Cardinals twice, but he’s decided to stay in Dallas.

MORE: Why New Arizona Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort Faces a Daunting Offseason

However, Flores stills seems to be the most likely hire. Currently the Steelers linebackers coach, Flores worked with Ossenfort during their time in New England. Given their overlapping experience in the Patriots’ scouting system, Flores and Arizona’s new GM look like a match made in heaven.

Flores also has personnel experience on his résumé. Before entering the coaching ranks, he began his NFL career as a Patriots scouting assistant and pro scout. That background could help the Cardinals revamp their roster, as Flores and Ossenfort would immediately be on the same page regarding what players and skill sets they’re looking for.

Denver Broncos

Leading candidate: DeMeco Ryans

Sean Payton appeared to be the favorite for the Broncos’ job, but there have been tea leaves suggesting Payton could return to FOX for another season before taking another crack at a head coaching job in 2023.

Instead, it looks like 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is now at the top of Denver’s list, as 9News’ Mike Klis reported on Thursday. While Payton and former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell are still in the mix, Ryans is at the forefront of the Broncos’ search.

If Ryans ends up landing the job, it will mark a turn of events in Denver. After the failed hiring of Nathaniel Hackett in 2021, the Broncos were thought to be prioritizing head coaching experience — which Ryans doesn’t have. He was one of only three Denver candidates (joining Ejiro Evero and Jerry Rosburg, both Broncos holdovers) without a head coaching turn at either the NFL or NCAA level.

Ryans is a defensive mastermind, but his offensive coordinator hire in Denver would be crucial. The Broncos’ next head coach must figure out a way to either fix Russell Wilson or find a develop the club’s next quarterback. Ryans should have plenty of offensive contacts — especially within the Kyle Shanahan tree — to sort through.

Houston Texans

Leading candidate: Jonathan Gannon

The Texans have interviewed eight head coaching candidates since firing Lovie Smith on Black Monday. Two candidates — Evero and Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka — have met with Houston twice.

Jonathan Gannon, meanwhile, has only interviewed with Houston once, but he’s still the frontrunner for the job in our eyes. The Eagles’ defensive coordinator was one of three finalists for the Texans’ gig last offseason, alongside Smith and former NFL quarterback Josh McCown, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Houston has circled back to Gannon this time around.

MORE: New York Jets Hire Nathaniel Hackett as Offensive Coordinator

Despite going through two head coaches in two years, nothing has changed about the Texans’ decision-making structure. Owner Cal McNair and general manager Nick Caserio were Gannon fans last year and are still in place. If they want Gannon, they can likely get him — because the 40-year-old isn’t on any other interview lists this offseason.

Whichever coach lands in Houston will probably capture some level of job security. It’s nearly unfathomable that an NFL team could fire three head coaches in three seasons. If Gannon gets a Texans offer, he should feel comfortable knowing he’ll get some time to overhaul the roster.

Indianapolis Colts

Leading candidate: Jeff Saturday

The Colts’ head coaching search is the murkiest in the NFL. They’ve interviewed 13 candidates, which doesn’t include Jim Harbaugh (who might have been in the mix had he not stayed at Michigan) or Ryans, whom Indy still wants to meet with.

It feels like the Colts could go in several different directions. Evero, Raheem Morris, and interim head coach Jeff Saturday all have or will conduct second interviews with Indianapolis. Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Colts special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone don’t have second interviews scheduled but are also considered finalists.

That Saturday is still in the race despite his lack of experience, and a 1-7 record down the stretch, remains inconceivable, but the former NFL center appears to have a real shot at becoming the Colts’ full-time head coach.

Saturday wouldn’t have received a second interview unless he was a serious candidate for the job. Owner Jim Irsay is liable to do just about anything, and he’s continuously praised Saturday despite how the Colts looked under his leadership. Indianapolis should go in a different direction, but right now, it doesn’t appear they will.

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