The Panthers will make this year’s first head coaching hire. They have decided on Frank Reich, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero (on Twitter).
Reich joined interim coach Steve Wilks as Carolina’s finalists. A quarterback on the Panthers’ inaugural 1995 squad, Reich will have a second head coaching opportunity following a midseason Colts dismissal. The Panthers have announced the hire. Following Matt Rhule‘s seven-year contract, Joe Person of The Athletic notes this is a four-year agreement (Twitter link).
Carolina had been zeroing in on offense-oriented coaches for a while, but Wilks’ performance as interim HC interfered with that plan. Wilks, who went 6-6 in his chance as the Panthers’ interim boss, joined Reich in interviewing twice for the position. The latter’s experience as a play-caller won out. Reich also interviewed for the Cardinals’ HC post, and a few teams wanted to speak with him about their offensive coordinator positions. But Reich said shortly after his Indianapolis exit he wanted a second chance as a head coach.
Reich zoomed onto the HC radar in 2018, after he played a central role in helping the Eagles win Super Bowl LII after losing their starting quarterback. Nick Foles‘ virtuoso finish to the 2017 season led to Reich becoming the Colts’ head coach, though he was Indy’s second choice following Josh McDaniels‘ infamous about-face. Reich ended up being a solid choice for the team, coaching two Colts squads to playoff berths.
The 2018 Colts edition did not face high expectations, but Reich led a turnaround that ended in the divisional round. Andrew Luck bounced back with a 39-touchdown pass season under Reich, but another run of injury trouble during the 2019 offseason led the standout passer to announce his retirement just before the season. Reich navigated that setback for a bit, reuniting with ex-Chargers pupil Philip Rivers in 2020, but the Colts are still dealing with the fallout from Luck’s retirement. After the 2020 playoff berth preceded Rivers’ retirement, the wheels gradually fell off for the Colts. Their 9-8 2021 season — ending with an ugly Week 18 loss to the two-touchdown underdog Jaguars — prompted Jim Irsay to insist on sweeping changes, and that process soon led to Reich’s firing.
Reich, 61, had advocated for Carson Wentz in 2021, and the Colts bypassed a draft move to reunite their HC with his ex-Eagles charge. Wentz had moments in 2021 and ranked in the top 10 in QBR, throwing 27 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions. Wentz was inconsistent down the stretch that year, and after a COVID-19 contraction, he struggled mightily in the Colts’ final two games — losses that knocked them out of the playoff race. Irsay demanded Wentz be traded, leading to an Irsay-endorsed Matt Ryan partnership. Ryan’s woes in his age-37 season led to Irsay demanding Reich bench him for former sixth-round pick Sam Ehlinger. This run of owner-mandated moves eventually led to Reich being canned in November — not long after the Panthers axed Rhule. Irsay later said he reluctantly extended Reich in 2021, putting a bow on an eventful 2022 for the Colts owner.
A longtime Bills backup who led the greatest comeback in playoff history — a 32-point rally past the Oilers in the 1992 wild-card round — Reich played the 1995 season with the Panthers. Arriving in Carolina as a free agent in ’95, Reich took the first snap in team history. He moved into coaching in the mid-2000s and began his rise as the Chargers’ OC under Mike McCoy nearly a decade later. Reich will come full circle with the Panthers, who recently hired one of his daughters to work in their marketing department, per Person. Frank’s brother, Joe, has also been the head coach at Charlotte-area Wingate University for 22 years.
Wilks has deeper ties to the Panthers. He is a Charlotte native who coached in Carolina as a Ron Rivera assistant and then an interim HC. Players advocated for Wilks, who did one of the better jobs in interim coaching history last season. With Reich beating him out for the full-time gig, Wilks intends to coach elsewhere in 2023, Pelissero tweets.
The Panthers were also quite impressed with Cowboys OC Kellen Moore, Rapoport tweets, but they will go with experience in Reich. Moore, 33, just finished his fourth season as Dallas’ play-caller and interviewed over a two-day period with Carolina this week. Although David Tepper met with Sean Payton this week, a trade between two NFC South franchises was never likely.
Tepper’ssecond hire will be a first for the Panthers, who have never seen their head coach double as their offensive play-caller. The Panthers have either employed defensive-minded leaders (Dom Capers, George Seifert, John Fox, Rivera) or a CEO-type HC (Rhule). Tepper’s seven-year, $62MM Rhule contract backfired, leading the owner to prioritize NFL experience this time around.