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Panthers Top Head Coach Candidates After Firing Frank Reich

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper finds himself in a familiar position; needing to hire a new head coach.

After Frank Reich was fired by the Panthers Monday, Tepper will need to hire his third head coach since Matt Rhule's arrival in 2020. This time around, the process is littered with landmines and roadblocks, both of Tepper's making and in terms of the hiring cycle the NFL is about to experience.

The difficult reality the Panthers must face is that Tepper's itchy trigger finger and lack of patience makes the Carolina job a bit less attractive than some situations. Especially those with owners who have a track record of patience and allowing the football operations side of the building to do their work independently from ownership, which does not seem to be the case in Carolina.

Likewise, some of the most attractive candidates will likely be in the mix for jobs where they will have the opportunity to coach a top incoming rookie quarterback such as USC's Caleb Williams or Drake Maye, and whether fair or not Bryce Young's disappointing rookie campaign will be judged against their potential.

There could be nearly 10 jobs that come open by the time Black Monday arrives following Week 18 of the regular season, so this hiring cycle will be a busy one.

Here's a look at five potential candidates who could be terrific fits for the Panthers, working on the assumption that Carolina views Bryce Young as its quarterback of the future:

1. Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions Offensive Coordinator

Ben Johnson is going to have his pick of head coaching jobs, after one of the more impressive offensive turnarounds over the past two seasons that we have seen in recent years.

Johnson's Lions can beat defenses in myriad ways; with a dynamic duo of electrifying running backs, stretching the field on the perimeter, or attacking the short and intermediate routes with tight ends and slot receivers that are capable of producing big plays after the catch. The Problem for the Panthers is going to be that Johnson will likely once again have his pick of jobs, after returning for one more season in Detroit. If Johnson believes Bryce Young has more upside, and a better chance of winning big immediately than Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, or any of the young quarterbacks he's likely going to be able to choose from in his next situation, then Carolina makes some sense. We're about to find out what Johnson thinks of the 2023 quarterback class, and perhaps by extension, the Panthers.

2. Brian Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Coordinator

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 22: Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Coordinator Brian Johnson looks on prior to a game against the Miami Dolphins at Lincoln Financial Field on October 22, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Jalen Hurts has played his way into the forefront of the MVP race the past two seasons, so it would be easy to see why the Panthers would want to pry away the consistent voice in the Eagles quarterback's development.

Brian Johnson, in his first season as Eagles offensive coordinator after previously serving as Philadelphia's quarterback's coach, could be uniquely suited to help guide Young to the next level. Johnson's experience as a college quarterback could help him speak the same language as Young, and was involved in Dak Prescott's development before landing on the Eagles' staff with Hurts. If the Panthers are aiming for an offensive minded coach, with a quarterback background, and track record for guiding prolific offenses, Johnson could be among the first calls.

3. Joe Brady, Buffalo Bills Interim Offensive Coordinator

Could Joe Brady be coming home?

Widely viewed as a rising star in the coaching community, Brady is currently calling plays for Josh Allen as the Buffalo Bills' interim offensive coordinator. Brady was on Matt Rhule's staff, and was fired by Rhule shortly before the head coach was also dismissed. In two games calling plays for the Bills, Buffalo has been able to more consistently get dynamic wide receiver Stefon Diggs involved than he previously had been in recent weeks, and Allen is playing some of the most dominant football of his season. While Brady's age, just 34, might be held against him from getting a head coaching job this cycle, if Tepper believes that he can relate to Young and get the most out of him as a passer, he could be a dark horse to watch.


4. Bill O'Brien, New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 22: New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien looks on during the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

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As toxic as anything that New England touches has become, if the Panthers are truly committed to Young as the quarterback of the future, it might be worth turning back to an influential voice from the young passer's past.

O'Brien was Nick Saban's offensive coordinator at Alabama for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, working closely alongside Young and helping guide him to the Heisman Trophy. However, O'Brien's tenure as the Houston Texans' head coach went down in flames, especially as he attained significant personnel control over roster decisions, and the Patriots' failures this season could make hiring O'Brien a tough sell. But, if Young advocates for his college offensive coordinator, Carolina's situation doesn't appear much different from the one O'Brien first walked into in Houston.


5. Jim Caldwell, Carolina Panthers Senior Adviser to Offense

The panthers interviewed Caldwell last winter, prior to hiring Reich, and promoting him as the next head coach would preserve some continuity for Young.

With prior head coaching experience, Caldwell would be an adult in the room within the Panthers' organization. Likewise, his track record of developing quarterbacks could make him an asset when it comes to Young's future. At age 68, Caldwell produced five winning seasons as a head coach while compiling a 62-50 overall record. It is telling that despite Duce Staley and Josh McCown being shown the exit shortly after Reich's firing that Caldwell remains. This final stretch run, and how Young plays during it, could figure a role into whether the Panthers give Caldwell's head coaching career new life.

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