The firing of former Panthers head coach Frank Reich was not a spur of the moment decision. Team owner David Tepper had been forming the basis for this decision for weeks before finally pulling the trigger. Joseph Person and Dianna Russini spoke with several players and staff within the organization, some under the guise of anonymity, about the state of the organization and revealed a number of headline-worthy comments.
First off was the confirmation of rumors that the team’s poor offensive performance contributed heavily to Reich’s exit. In addition to serving as head coach, Reich also called offensive plays for Carolina. He ceded play-calling duties to first year offensive coordinator Thomas Brown for three games before retaking the responsibility, but nothing seemed to help their struggling rookie quarterback, Bryce Young, and Reich’s decision to take back that role reportedly caused some division within the staff.
In 11 starts so far this year, Young is averaging fewer than 200 passing yards per game. and has thrown only nine touchdowns to nine interceptions. The offense has struggled as a whole, ranking 29th in points scored and 30th in yards gained. Their struggles have been fairly balanced with the team ranking 30th in passing yards and 26th in rushing.
One take, per Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, is that the Panthers’ attack was simply too complicated for the rookie passer. Reich brought in assistant coaches from many backgrounds. When he was let go, quarterbacks coach Josh McCown and running backs coach Duce Staley were also let go, due to their heavy influence on the offense. Between Reich’s plan from his Philadelphia days, Brown’s scheme from Los Angeles, and the input from McCown and Staley, there were simply too many cooks in the kitchen. The plan post-Reich has been to streamline the offense in order to make it a bit more digestible for Young.
Additionally, there seemed to be a disconnect within the coaching staff. As we recently reported, there were seemingly attempts within the coaching staff to get Young benched in favor of a veteran like backup quarterback Andy Dalton. Such attempts reportedly never reached Reich or general manager Scott Fitterer. This may have been a result of several Panthers staffers communicating directly with Tepper behind Reich’s back. With the writing on the wall for Reich, several assistants reportedly went into self-preservation mode in an attempt to not go down with the captain of the ship.
Tepper really attempted to be hands-on this season. After firing Matt Rhule, Tepper sold a thorough coaching search (despite some rumors pointing to a foregone conclusion when Carolina hired Reich’s daughter hours after the 2022 season ended). After “eventually” landing on Reich, Tepper reportedly implored his new head coach to hire assistants outside of his normal coaching circle, suggesting that Reich retain special teams coordinator Chris Tabor and offensive line coach James Campen. Tepper even instructed Reich to fix Young’s footwork, though this may have been prompted by another coach or even Fitterer.
With Reich in the past, there have been several names rumored to be in contention to replace him. Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is a popular pick after he was heavily considered in the offseason before withdrawing his name from consideration to stay in Detroit. But Carolina isn’t necessarily selling out for Johnson. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, sources have the Panthers on the lookout for a “young offensive coach” to replace Reich.
Johnson does fit that mold at the age of 37, but Eagles 36-year-old offensive coordinator Brian Johnson will be popular this offseason, as well. Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, at 36 years old, has already shown what he can do with the development of a rookie quarterback after working with both Brock Purdy in 2022 and C.J. Stroud this year, though he remains close to DeMeco Ryans, who brought him over from San Francisco. Lastly, Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith is a bit older at 42 years old but is still a rising name in the NFL after Miami’s offensive development in the past two years.
While they might not love what’s been put on the field thus far, the Panthers also still have Brown on the offensive staff after he was considered a head coaching candidate in the offseason. Brown was also considered an up-and-coming offensive mind coming out of Los Angeles last year. Regardless, Tepper will need to really do his homework this time around if he wants to author a strong reply to this year’s dismal performance.