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Carolina Panthers

Who could be a fit for Carolina Panthers head coaching job? Here are 10 candidates to know

What now, David Tepper?

The Carolina Panthers owner called an abrupt end to Frank Reich's time at the helm, firing the head coach Monday after a 1-10 start in his lone season leading the team. An accomplished offensive mind and proven entity as a head coach and play caller, Reich was supposed to be Tepper's correction to the ill-fated Matt Rhule era. As the franchise's first starting quarterback, he could have provided a nice degree of harmony by setting up a star turn for Bryce Young, whom the team traded up to select with the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft.

Instead, amid a league-worst record and floundering offense that offered little hope for a turnaround, Tepper will return to the coaching interview circuit this offseason, with his organization more desperate and less flexible than it was last January. And the group of potential candidates could potentially be thinned by the owner's quick-trigger tendencies.

Still, at a time when patience is at a premium league-wide, dismissing a coach within one season hasn't been a death knell for other franchises. The Houston Texans were able to snag DeMeco Ryans after two one-and-done hires, and the Denver Broncos (Nathaniel Hackett to Sean Payton) and Jacksonville Jaguars (Urban Meyer to Doug Pederson) have been able to course-correct from bad missteps by hiring Super Bowl-winning coaches. And it doesn't hurt that Tepper, one of the league's richest owners, has the spending power to make a splash.

So, where does that leave Carolina's search? After seven of the team's nine interviews last season were with coaches who had offensive backgrounds, it's a good bet that Tepper will lean that way again. And with the Panthers' investment in Young still costing them their first-round pick in 2024 – on track to be the No. 1 overall selection – as well as a second-rounder in 2025, the next coach will need to make the most of limited personnel options to build up an attack that ranks in the bottom five in almost every statistical category.

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With that in mind, here's a look at some of the coaches who could be candidates for the Panthers' vacancy:

Panthers coaching candidates

Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator

Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson watches during an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears in Detroit, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023.

Multiple outlets reported that Johnson was considered the front-runner for the role last year before bowing out prior to an in-person interview. Could Tepper land his potential top target on a second go-around? From the Panthers' perspective, there's little doubt that the 37-year-old — a native of Asheville, North Carolina, and a former Tar Heels walk-on quarterback — would seemingly align with what the Panthers are seeking, especially as a crafty play caller who could lighten the load on Young. However, Johnson is expected to be one of the most highly sought head-coaching candidates on the market, and other jobs might prove more appealing.

Eric Bieniemy, Washington Commanders offensive coordinator

Bieniemy first interviewed with the Panthers in 2020 for the job that eventually went to Rhule. After his last two hires, maybe Tepper finds his way back to considering Bieniemy, who wasn't among the coaches with whom Carolina spoke last year. In his first year with the Commanders after his run with the Kansas City Chiefs, the 54-year-old has reinforced that he can mold a young quarterback; Sam Howell is the NFL's leader in passing yards, even amid trying circumstances and poor offensive line play.

Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans offensive coordinator

Throughout his rocky introduction to the NFL, Young has been dogged by comparisons to C.J. Stroud, the Ohio State product who was bypassed for the No. 1 pick but now is on track to post one of the best rookie quarterback campaigns of all time. It would make sense, then, for Carolina to talk with Slowik, whose abundant creativity has helped Stroud and the Texans' offense flourish. Given that this is Slowik's first year as an offensive coordinator, landing a head-coaching gig would represent a remarkable leap for the 36-year-old. At the very least, an interview should be in order given what the Panthers could stand to gain.

Brian Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator

After producing two head coaches in Shane Steichen (Indianapolis Colts) and Jonathan Gannon (Arizona Cardinals) last offseason, the Eagles might not get to enjoy an extended run of continuity before their next top mind gets a leading role elsewhere. Johnson took over for Steichen and, after some early hiccups, kept Philadelphia's offense rolling, with the group ranked third in the NFL in scoring. Johnson, 36, has been lauded for his ability to adapt his approach during games, with the Eagles having mounted comeback victories in each of their last four games.

Kellen Moore, Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator

Of those who interviewed with the Panthers last year, Moore might be the most sensible candidate for the organization to circle back on. After engineering the Dallas Cowboys' No. 1-ranked offense last year, he's moved on to orchestrate the Chargers' attack, which is tied for eighth in scoring (24.5 points per game). Though he's still only 35, the former quarterback has a strong track record of working with signal-callers after guiding Dak Prescott and Justin Herbert.

Frank Smith, Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator

Never a bad idea to talk to the people involved with the league's most explosive offense. While Mike McDaniel calls the plays in Miami, Smith has drawn rave reviews from his head coach for his football intelligence and ability to connect with players. Those traits could prove vital in helping out a young quarterback whose career has gotten off to a difficult start.

Brian Callahan, Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator

Callahan knows a thing or two about how to build up a quarterback who was a No. 1 pick, as he has played a crucial role in Joe Burrow's development despite Zac Taylor handling the play-calling in Cincinnati. He interviewed with the Colts and Cardinals in the last hiring round and should remain in the mix for openings this offseason, even after Cincinnati's offense took a major hit in the form of Burrow's season-ending wrist injury. Callahan also has NFL DNA, as he's the son of longtime NFL coach Bill Callahan.

Shane Waldron, Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator

A Sean McVay protege, Waldron is now in his third year running the show with Seahawks offense. The 44-year-old has already shown he can cater an offense to a quarterback's specific talents, as Geno Smith earned Comeback Player of the Year in 2022 under his watch. Could he be similarly beneficial for Young?

Ejiro Evero, Panthers defensive coordinator

For all of the franchise's strife under Tepper, Carolina has a likely future head coach already on its staff in Evero. The 42-year-old has been lauded at every stop, and he was the only external defensive candidate to land an interview for the head-coaching role last season. While not having an offensive background might be a significant strike against him in this search, Evero at least should be in the mix with another interview.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan head coach

After firing Rhule, Tepper said he regretted hiring a "CEO-style" head coach. Given that stance and several other potential deterrents, Harbaugh might seem like an odd fit for an owner seemingly in the market for someone to align his offense with current NFL trends. But Tepper also seems desperate to make a splash and field a winning team in short order, and Harbaugh's 44-19-1 record with the 49ers represents the kind of sustained success that has evaded Carolina throughout the franchise's existence. Between the sign-stealing scandal at Michigan and his seemingly annual flirtations with a return to the NFL, expect to hear Harbaugh's name thrown around for multiple pro openings.

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