Carolina

Panthers head coach: Who should Carolina hire? Interviews, candidates, finalists

The Carolina Panthers became the first NFL team with a head coaching position this cycle after firing Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start. Rhule’s tenure lasted less than three full seasons and never delivered a winning record.

But while such an early layoff usually heralds a difficult year, the Panthers managed to make things interesting under interim head coach Steve Wilks. In the last 12 games of the season, the team led 6-6, almost winning the NFC South in the process. That probably says more about the division than Carolina, but it’s a feather in Wilks’ cap as the franchise chooses its next head coach.

known candidates

Jim Caldwell

As head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions, Jim Caldwell would bring experience and a steady hand to the Broncos. That seems particularly remarkable given that the team’s last three hires have accepted the job without ever having held a head coaching position before. Caldwell’s best season in the big chair remains his first — a 14-2 Colts team that reached the Super Bowl — but that came with league MVP Peyton Manning under center.

Ken Dorsey

In his first year as NFL offensive coordinator, Ken Dorsey kept the Buffalo Bills on track. The unit finished second in the DVOA despite quarterback Josh Allen struggling with an elbow problem for most of the season. While Dorsey only has one season in his current position, he also served as quarterbacks coach for several years. For teams looking to build a young Signalcaller, this experience is beneficial. At the same time, the Bills’ offense folded on the biggest stage, earning just 10 points in the divisional round. That somewhat reinforces the notion that Dorsey needs more spice before he lands a head coaching job.

Ejiro Evero

Despite all of the Denver Broncos’ struggles in 2022, their defense has consistently put in an impressive performance. This game was largely thanks to defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. When Denver removed Hackett a few weeks before the end of the season, the team initially approached Evero for an interim replacement. Evero reportedly declined in order to focus on defense and limit disruption. Regardless, he’s garnered interest from several franchises this cycle, not just the Panthers.

Mike Kafka

The New York Giants had little offensive talent other than Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley and stud left tackle Andrew Thomas. However, that didn’t stop Mike Kafka from leading a top-10 offense from DVOA and leading Daniel Jones to his best season in the NFL. While Kafka became a hot name as head coach Brian Daboll’s OK, he spent most of his coaching career under Andy Reid with the Kansas City Chiefs. This varied resume could help him land a head coaching job in the near future.

Kellen Moore

As offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, Kellen Moore bridged the Jason Garrett era to Mike McCarthy’s tenure as head coach. Through it all, the Cowboys have displayed one of the more creative systems in the league, borrowing from multiple coaching trees as well as Moore’s experience at Boise State. The Cowboys’ disappointing showing in the Divisional Round raises some questions, but Moore’s resume stretches back over a year.

Sean Payton

Sean Payton, the beauty of the ball, former headman of the New Orleans Saints, has received interview requests from almost every team with an opening. Payton has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best offensive heads in the game and a Super Bowl ring on his resume. As he remains signed with the Saints, any club interested in hiring him will have to pay compensation (presumably draft picks) on top of the hefty salary Payton will be asking. New Orleans could demand a bounty to send Payton to the division.

France

Frank Reich’s unceremonious midseason departure as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts set the stage for the unintended comedy of the Jeff Saturday era. But that debacle shouldn’t overshadow Reich’s accomplishments, which include a 37-28 record in his first four seasons with four different starting quarterbacks.

DeMeco Ryans

In a short time, DeMeco Ryans has established himself as one of the top defensive coordinators in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers. The team has reached the NFC Championship game for the second year in a row, thanks in large part to Ryan’s unity. And while the 49ers have immense defensive talent — including frontrunner Nick Bosa, who won Defensive Player of the Year honors — Ryans’ play-calling and in-game tweaks have largely negated weaknesses in the secondary. Ryans has attracted interest for head coaching positions over the past year and has interviewed for several teams this cycle.

Shane Steinen

For a 37-year-old coach, Shane Steichen offers a lot of experience. A former defensive assistant, Steichen earned his spurs as a quarterbacks coach and later as an offense coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers. He then met with Nick Sirianni’s staff in Philadelphia and brought his offensive creativity with him. This cycle is Steichen’s first as a head coach candidate, so realistically he’ll have to wait another year before landing in the big chair.

Steve Wilk

After Rhule’s midseason departure, Wilks nearly pushed the Panthers to a divisional crown. Efforts failed, but Wilks deserves considerable credit for reviving a team that appeared to have nothing left to play for, especially after front-office traded superstar Christian McCaffrey ran back.

Who should the Panthers hire as their next head coach?

Wilks may have the support of the dressing room, but the track record of interim head coaches getting the full-time job doesn’t inspire much confidence. With that in mind, Ryans seems like the best option for Carolina. Defense should only improve under his supervision, and his experience working with Kyle Shanahan provides a blueprint for a compatible attacking style.

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