Frank Reich

Latest On Panthers’ Organizational Dysfunction

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.

Panthers Likely To Make Aggressive Ben Johnson Pursuit; Team Considered Benching Bryce Young?

The Panthers made a push to hire Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson this offseason, but the rising play-caller withdrew his name from consideration for that job or other HC positions. Despite Johnson turning down the Panthers in January, the team will be prepared to see if it can change the second-year OC’s mind.

Rumored to once again be targeting a coach with an offensive background, the Panthers will have their sights set on Johnson. Following the quick Frank Reich ouster, the Panthers look to be more interested in Johnson than they were earlier this year, Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post notes.

Some around the NFL are convinced David Tepper will up the ante for the Detroit OC, La Canfora adds. Tepper’s increasingly polarizing reputation aside, the Panthers owner’s net worth sits behind only the Walton family in Denver among. Tepper made the comment about no salary cap being in place for coaches this offseason, when he added Ejiro Evero, Thomas Brown, Jim Caldwell, Josh McCown and Dom Capers to Reich’s staff.

But Johnson is on track to be a coveted commodity on the 2024 HC carousel. The Chargers have been linked to him as well, and he is expected to be interested in coaching Justin Herbert — a position expected to become available with Brandon Staley struggling in his third season — in 2024. Tepper’s reputation for impulsive decisions and meddling is also expected to make this search more complicated than those to replace Ron Rivera and Matt Rhule.

Tepper’s willingness to spend for coaches, as evidenced by Rhule’s seven-year deal worth $62MM, could certainly matter to a point. And a GM informed La Canfora the owner may be willing to keep GM Scott Fitterer on to help lure Johnson to Charlotte. Viewed as a GM not insistent on playing the lead role in personnel, Fitterer — who indeed operated as second-in-command during Rhule’s run — does not have experience working with Johnson. The latter has been with the Lions since 2019; he spent the previous seven years with the Dolphins.

It would certainly be interesting for the Panthers to keep a GM on staff in hopes he can lure a promising HC to town, and it would not exactly reflect well on the team’s situation for Johnson to turn the club down twice. Tepper hired Fitterer to work alongside Rhule, but a report last month suggested he joined Reich on the hot seat. With the Panthers starting 1-11, Fitterer receiving a fourth season in the GM chair might be a tough sell. But the Panthers are in an unusual spot, seeing their owner become the center of attention during this run of inconsistency on the sideline and at the quarterback position.

On the latter front, Bryce Young has continued to struggle, doing so as No. 2 overall pick C.J. Stroud has separated himself in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race. Tepper attempted to insist the Panthers were in full agreement regarding Young over Stroud, but the 5-foot-10 passer did not receive a good draw in Year 1. The Panthers have lost both starting guards for the season, and free agency additions Miles Sanders and Hayden Hurst — each securing the most guaranteed money at their respective positions this offseason — have not moved the needle much. These signings, of course, came after the Panthers included longtime No. 1 wide receiver D.J. Moore in the trade for the No. 1 pick.

Young’s rookie-year issues were evident early to some on staff, as The Athletic’s Dianna Russini adds multiple coaches on staff wanted to bench the former Heisman winner by Week 5 (subscription required). Viewing Young as requiring more coaching before he could be relied upon as a weekly starter, these coaches were ultimately overruled by a Panthers vision that placed a higher priority on long-term Young development rather than potential 2023 wins with Andy Dalton at the helm. The Panthers fired both McCown and running backs coach Duce Staley. Parks Frazier, who rose from assistant Colts QBs coach to offensive coordinator in the wake of Reich’s 2022 firing, is now coaching the Panthers’ QBs, the Charlotte Observer’s Mike Kaye tweets.

It is not known if McCown and Staley backed a Young benching, but Tepper has attempted to drive home the notion the staff was in agreement on the Alabama prospect. Reich was connected to being pro-Stroud early in the pre-draft process, though he said post-draft he was in alignment with Panthers scouts on Young. The Panthers remain hopeful regarding Young’s development, with one team staffer (via Russini) citing the shortcomings of the team’s offensive pieces around him.

Circling back to Reich, La Canfora offers one of the reasons Tepper cut the cord so early was the veteran coach’s lower-key demeanor. Reich, 61, is not known as an intense leader. Reich’s measured approach came up against two outspoken owners during his HC career, with Jim Irsay becoming increasingly involved as the former Super Bowl-winning OC’s Colts run progressed. Reich signed a four-year contract. While Rhule’s Nebraska contract moved the Panthers off the hook for much of the money remaining on his NFL contract, via offset language, Reich said he is likely headed toward retirement. In that event, the Panthers will be paying their former HC through 2026.

Latest On Panthers’ HC, GM Positions

Consistent with a report that surfaced in the immediate aftermath of head coach Frank Reich‘s dismissal, Adam Schefter of says that the Panthers will be targeting an offensive-minded coach when they conduct a search for Reich’s full-time replacement this offseason. Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson — who had emerged as the frontrunner for the Carolina HC post during the 2023 hiring cycle before he withdrew his name from consideration — is likely to be on owner David Tepper‘s short list once again, per Schefter. Ditto Eagles OC Brian Johnson.

Schefter’s ESPN colleague, Dan Graziano, agrees that Tepper’s search will lean towards a coach with an offensive background given the franchise’s investment in Bryce Young (subscription required). However, both Graziano and fellow ESPN scribe Jeremy Fowler believe that a candidate’s leadership abilities could be more critical than their offensive acumen. After all, new Texans HC DeMeco Ryans is a defensive-oriented coach, but his club — guided by rookie QB C.J. Stroud — boasts one of the league’s most prolific offenses. Likewise, the defensive-minded Steve Wilks led the Panthers to a 6-6 finish as interim head coach in 2022, but Tepper elected to move on from Wilks and chose not to aggressively pursue Ryans.

Regardless of which qualities Tepper prioritizes in the upcoming cycle, it remains to be seen if he will be able to land his top choice, thanks to his growing reputation as an impatient and meddlesome owner. According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Tepper’s comments at a press conference in the wake of Reich’s firing will not help his cause.

During that presser, Tepper noted that the decision to select Young over Stroud in the 2023 draft was unanimous, though Florio finds that hard to believe. That is not because he is looking at the matter through a revisionist lens skewed by the two players’ performances in their rookie campaigns, but rather because the sheer number of people involved in such a franchise-defining choice is almost guaranteed to generate contrasting viewpoints. So even though Tepper says the call was unanimous, Florio believes the reality is that any Stroud supporters realized that Tepper preferred Young and ultimately chose to side with their employer.

Indeed, while all owners natually have the power to veto any decisions made by their staff, Tepper drove that point home when reporters asked him about the Young-Stroud issue.

“The process was done the way the process was done,” Tepper said. “And again, even though if there was a process with five people in the room and the way the votes came in it was Frank was the first choice [as head coach], I always could veto that choice. And even if [it[ was Bryce [as the first overall pick] and the votes came in unanimously in this particular case, I could have vetoed that choice.”

In Florio’s view, the fact that Tepper openly avowed that he wields veto power even if there is unanimity among his football staff is telling. It also underscores his willingness to meddle, which could drive away candidates that might otherwise be interested in the Carolina HC gig. Dianna Russini of The Athletic, who says that Stroud’s success was a key factor in Tepper’s decision to fire Reich, also reports that some members of the organization have been texting Ben Johnson to tell him how “complicated” it is to work for the Panthers at the moment (subscription required).

Another high-profile target is Jim Harbaugh, but as Tony Pauline of Sportskeeda recently observed, Tepper’s propensity to drive decision-making obviously would not be appealing to a candidate like Harbaugh, who will likely want a high degree of autonomy over football operations. Plus, as a source told Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports, “[Harbaugh’s] just as mercurial as Tepper. You want a coach that way, too?”

That said, other sources have told Jones that Harbaugh is a legitimate candidate for the job. While Harbaugh and Tepper did speak about the position in late December 2022/early January 2023, that conversation did not evolve into an interview. According to Jones, Tepper — who had recently fired Matt Rhule — did not want another coach who ran the entire football operation, but it sounds as if he may be more amenable to a Harbaugh hire this time around. And no matter how Tepper may be perceived around the league, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports makes it clear that there will be plenty of coaches who will want the Panthers’ post (video link).

Of course, there may be a new voice in Tepper’s ear when the calendar flips to 2024. GM Scott Fitterer is reportedly on the hot seat, and while Schefter reports that Carolina may prefer to retain him, he has been given no assurances about his future with the club.

Frank Reich Unlikely To Coach Again; Panthers Expected To Target Offensive HC For 2024

NOVEMBER 28: When speaking to the media in the wake of Reich’s dismissal, Tepper unsurprisingly pushed back on the notion that his impatience regarding coaches will make the Panthers opening an unattractive one. He also suggested, via Person, that an outside hiring firm will not be consulted for the latest search process (subscription required). Tepper has elected to keep his previous hiring decisions in-house, and it appears that will remain the case in 2023.

Confirming previous reports on the matter – as well as Reich’s public remarks – Tepper also said the Panthers’ decision to draft Young over C.J. Stroud was “unanimous.” Tepper is widely understood to have played a role in the selection (as well as other elements of the team’s football operations), but his assertion on the matter of the Young pick may help smooth over meddling-related concerns for prospective coaching candidates, especially if those with a background on offense are again prioritized.

NOVEMBER 27: Frank Reich now joins Nathaniel Hackett, Urban Meyer and Pete McCulley as the only post-merger head coaches to be fired before their first season ended. This resided as a McCulley-only list for more than 40 years, but owners have acted swiftly over the past three. David Tepper pulled the plug on a four-year contract Monday, and Reich’s firing edges out Hackett and Meyer, who were respectively fired 15 and 13 games into their Denver and Jacksonville HC tenures. Only McCulley was fired sooner since 1970; the 49ers canned him after nine games.

Offset language helped the Panthers avoid much of the remaining payments on the ill-fated seven-year Matt Rhule contract, with the longtime college HC signing on as Nebraska’s leader. But Reich may not give the Panthers the chance to recoup money. The veteran NFL HC and assistant and former quarterback said shortly after his firing this is probably it for him in the NFL, though he did not definitively announce a retirement.

This is probably the final chapter of my NFL journey,” Reich said, via the Charlotte Observer’s Scott Fowler. “… There’s a heart-pounding disappointment in not hitting the marks that we needed to hit to keep this going and try to get it turned around. It hurts me for the guys, the team, the coaches and the fans.

Reich has been an NFL assistant or head coach since 2006, moving into the profession on a full-time basis eight years after his playing career concluded. The Super Bowl-winning OC’s remark Monday differs from his plan upon being fired midway through last season. Following the Colts dismissal, Reich revealed intentions to coach again. He received another opportunity, beating out Steve Wilks for the Carolina job. But the Panthers regressed after making that change. Despite Reich being in his first season, Tepper, who was irate after a Week 12 loss dropped the Panthers to 1-10, canned the coach he hired in January.

Reich, 61, appeared to pull back the curtain on rumblings of Tepper overreach during the season, indicating the owner took a hands-on approach. While animosity would understandably exist after being fired 11 games into his tenure, the well-liked coach did not indicate any existed. Tepper has now fired three coaches in-season; he dismissed Ron Rivera 12 games into the 2019 campaign.

I want to convey that I have nothing but positive thoughts about Mr. Tepper. On a personal level, I saw a side of him that I deeply respect and care about,” Reich said, via Fowler. “But the NFL is a meritocracy. It’s not unconditional love. I understand from a professional standpoint Mr. Tepper is going to have certain standards that he expects to have met. I have no hard feelings, and my personal relationship with him was actually a real highlight of this short time.”

Firing coaches during the season in back-to-back years brings the latest round of turmoil for the Tepper-era Panthers, whose first-round pick — stationed atop the 2024 draft board with six weeks left — goes to the Bears via the Bryce Young trade. It will be interesting to see the run of candidates interested in the job, but despite Reich’s struggles, The Athletic’s Joe Person indicates the sixth-year owner is likely to again target an offense-minded HC (subscription required).

As should be expected, veteran special teams coordinator Chris Tabor is unlikely to receive much consideration for the long-term job,’s David Newton and Jeremy Fowler note. Although Tabor has been an NFL special teams coach since 2008, the path for ST staffers to rise to the top sideline job — John Harbaugh‘s Baltimore success notwithstanding — remains narrow.

Wilks drew support to become the first interim HC since Doug Marrone (Jaguars, 2017) to see his interim tag removed, but Person adds Tepper had zeroed in on an offense-geared coach. Ben Johnson had emerged as Tepper’s top target, but the young Lions OC removed his name from consideration a week before the Panthers hired Reich. Wilks interviewed twice along with Reich, instead ending up as the 49ers’ DC. It is not surprising to see an owner prefer an offensively oriented HC, given recent NFL trends. The Panthers will aim for a leader who can get more out of Young, presumably with a better cast of weaponry in place for 2024.

The Panthers fired Young’s position coach and their running backs coach after canning Reich, and’s Ian Rapoport indicates the ousters of Josh McCown and Duce Staley came from Tabor and Jim Caldwell. Staley had worked with Reich in Philadelphia as well, while McCown interviewed twice for Houston’s HC job.

A Reich hire, Caldwell has received more power following Monday morning’s change. Thomas Brown is back in place as the play-caller, however. Reich had taken back play-calling duties after handing them off to Brown for a three-game stretch. The Panthers, who had attempted to blend Reich concepts with those Brown learned from Sean McVay with the Rams, rank 30th in total offense and 29th in points scored.

Former Panthers tight end-turned-FOX analyst Greg Olsen would be interested in the position, per Person, should Tepper contact him regarding what would be an outside-the-box hire. Olsen is best remembered for his Panthers years and is early in his broadcasting career. FOX, however, is still planning to effectively demote him for Tom Brady in 2024.

Prior to the Panthers’ Week 12 loss to the Titans,’s Mike Garafolo had not gotten the sense Reich being a one-and-done was a certainty (video link). Though, Reich and GM Scott Fitterer were reported to be on the hot seat several days ago. Tepper had naturally planned to evaluate Reich’s work at season’s end. It turned out the owner no longer wanted the former Carolina QB mentoring Young, whom the owner was believed to have made a strong push for ahead of the draft. Hired to work with Rhule in 2021, Fitterer should certainly be considered on a hot seat going into the season’s home stretch.

Panthers Fire HC Frank Reich

1:15pm: In addition to Reich, a pair of other Panthers staffers have been let go. Running backs coach Duce Staley – who also held the title of assistant head coach – is out, as is quarterbacks coach Josh McCown, Pelissero reports. Both coaches were hired to Reich’s staff in February, adding to the number of highly-regarded voiced playing a role in shaping the Panthers’ offense. With the unit as a whole and Young in particular struggling, though, it comes as little surprise that they have been dismissed. It will be Brown and Caldwell at the controls on offense moving forward for Carolina.

8:44am: Frank Reich‘s initial season with the Panthers has come to a premature end. The veteran head coach has been let go, as first reported by Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. The team has since confirmed the move, noting that special teams coordinator Chris Tabor will serve as interim HC.

After another low-scoring output by the team’s offense, the Panthers sit at 1-10. Carolina has struggled with respect to offensive output and developing rookie quarterback Bryce Young. Issues in that regard led to Reich’s decision to cede play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, but that setup was quickly abandoned. Little progress was shown in Reich’s second go-round at the controls on offense, leading to increasing speculation he could find himself going one-and-done in Carolina.

A recent report indicated both Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer were on the hot seat heading into the second half of the season. While Panthers owner David Tepper has established a reputation for having a quick trigger finger on the topic of moving on from coaches, many believed Reich would at least have the remainder of the campaign to show signs of improvement. Instead, the latter is now out just 11 games into a tenure which began with signficant long-term promise.

Reich, 61, was let go midseason last year by the Colts as part of their unconventional decision to turn to Jeff Saturday to close out the campaign. That left him free to pursue other openings, and the Panthers job carried signficant appeal given the understanding a rookie quarterback would be added in the draft. Reich was praised for adding the likes of Brown and senior assistant Jim Caldwell to his staff, but things have not gone according to plan. The former will, to no surprise, reclaim play-calling duties for the remainder of the season, the team announced.

In the end, Reich’s 11-game tenure in Carolina represents the second-shortest head coaching tenure in NFL history. Today’s move marks an end to his sentimental return to Charlotte, as he served as the Panthers’ first quarterback during his playing career. Reich enjoyed success as an OC with the Chargers and Eagles before his Colts appointment, winning a Super Bowl in Philadelphia. Now, his head coaching record sits at 41-42-1.

Tabor does not have full-time head coaching experience (having previously worked with the Bears on an interim basis), but his performance so far has been something of a bright spot in an otherwise disastrous season. The Panthers rank second in the league in special teams DVOA, and they will aim to take a step forward on offense and defense to close out the campaign as they move through a switch on the sidelines for the second consecutive season. Steve Wilks went 6-6 in 2022 after Matt Rhule was fired early in his third season in Carolina. Now, another search will commence in the offseason.

Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was frequently connected to the Panthers’ opening in 2022 before electing to remain in Detroit for at least one more season. It will be interesting to see how aggressively Carolina pursues Johnson in the near future, although the quick Reich dismissal will invite understandable questions about how attractive the Panthers gig is. That is especially true given the team’s lack of a first-round pick in 2023 owing to the blockbuster trade made to acquire the No. 1 selection last spring. In any event, Reich now joins Josh McDaniels as a head coach let go midway through the campaign.

“I met with Coach Reich this morning and informed him that he will not continue as head coach of the Carolina Panthers,” Tepper said in a statement“I want to thank Frank for his dedication and service, and we wish him well.”

Panthers HC Frank Reich, GM Scott Fitterer On Hot Seat

Last year, the Panthers fired Matt Rhule after a 1-4 start. Interim HC Steve Wilks then led the team to a 6-6 finish that left it still in the NFC South race until Week 17. Despite many of the same cornerstone players in place, Carolina’s 2023 edition has the NFL’s worst record.

Trading up significant assets to secure Bryce Young at No. 1 overall, the Panthers were never viewed as a team that would truly contend this season. But their disappointing first half has many around the league wondering if David Tepper will bail on the power structure he signed off on in January. One member of Carolina’s power duo may be on a hotter seat than the other, but both Frank Reich and GM Scott Fitterer do not appear certain to retain their jobs beyond this season.

Many around the NFL are eyeing this situation, with the Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora noting there is a strong sense Reich will become a one-and-done. Even within the Panthers’ building, La Canfora adds the belief is jobs are on the line going into the season’s second half. This would be a stunning flip-flop from ownership — especially after Rhule went from receiving a seven-year contract to being canned after Week 5 of his third season — but Tepper has not exactly gained a reputation for stability during his early years running the NFC South team. Indeed, Tepper’s reputation is driving the speculation Reich will be canned after just one season, Sportskeeda’s Tony Pauline adds.

Tepper is believed to be irked by Young’s performance thus far, an NFL personnel exec informed La Canfora while adding the sixth-year owner drove the bus for the Alabama prospect. When the Panthers obtained the No. 1 overall pick, rumors of Reich preferring C.J. Stroud surfaced. Those steadily faded, as Young won the organization over despite his slight frame. The Panthers have seen Stroud hit the ground running with the Texans, and despite Carolina’s only win coming over Houston, the team has taken significant steps back compared to how it finished in 2022.

Among qualified passers, Young ranks only ahead of Ryan Tannehill in QBR this season. The former Heisman winner sits last in yards per attempt — at just 5.4 — and has thrown eight touchdown passes compared to seven interceptions. Young’s struggles should probably have been expected, given Carolina’s skill-position deficiencies. The team gave Miles Sanders the top RB contract in free agency; Chuba Hubbard has since leapfrogged the ex-Eagle for the starting role. Adam Thielen has gone from Vikings cap casualty to the Panthers’ No. 1 target, in his age-33 season. Thielen has been productive in Carolina; no one else in this skill group has. Neither DJ Chark nor Hayden Hurst — the latter receiving the top tight end deal this offseason — has topped 230 receiving yards this year.

After pointing to Thomas Brown being in consideration to call plays this offseason, Reich handed the duties off during the team’s bye week. Three games in, Reich took back the reins from the young OC. The Panthers did not top 15 points in a game during Brown’s short run calling the shots, and while the veteran HC said this about-face is not indicative of Brown’s long-term future, the quick change was certainly notable.

Reich beat out Wilks for the Panthers’ top job, with Tepper preferring an offense-oriented HC. The five-year Colts leader is the Panthers’ first offense-geared sideline boss. Well respected, Reich being fired from two HC jobs in two years would undoubtedly drop him back to the coordinator tier moving forward. Reich, 61, did pull back the curtain a bit on Tepper’s style earlier this season by pointing to the owner being heavily involved in football operations via the two’s weekly meetings. After the experience Reich had with Jim Irsay in Indianapolis, this is familiar territory.

But Reich may also not be the likeliest Panthers power broker to go. Fitterer should not be expected to weather this storm, according to Pauline. Fitterer arrived in 2021 to work with Rhule, following a successful tenure as a Seahawks exec, and was left in power ahead of the 2022 trade deadline. The veteran staffer pulled the trigger on a Christian McCaffrey trade, giving the Panthers four draft choices, but did not accept a Rams offer of two first-rounders for Brian Burns. The young defensive end was not believed to have drawn similar interest at this year’s deadline, which came after the Panthers could not extend him this offseason. A franchise tag is now expected for Burns, but it is far from certain Tepper will have Fitterer making that call.

Some members of the Panthers’ organization do not believe this is a well-assembled roster, and the team’s 1-8 record supports that. Despite being in a seller’s position, the Panthers pursued wide receivers — months after trading longtime No. 1 target D.J. Moore — at the deadline. Fitterer, who took a backseat to Rhule, has final say over Carolina’s 53-man roster. The Panthers lost to a Bears team missing Justin Fields; Carolina being in position to potentially hand over the 2024 No. 1 pick to Chicago would present difficult optics for Fitterer, who received a vote of confidence from Tepper after the Rhule firing.

Tepper firing Reich after one season would not make this a particularly attractive job, though the owner’s past authorizing big contracts for HCs and paying top dollar for assistants will help. This will be a situation to monitor during the season’s second half.

Panthers HC Frank Reich Reclaims Play-Calling Duties

NOVEMBER 15: Brown’s initial run as Panthers play-caller will stop after three games. Reich will indeed take back the play-calling reins, he revealed Wednesday. Reich, who called plays throughout his Colts HC tenure, said early this offseason he saw Brown as a future play-caller. The Panthers picked up their first win with Brown calling the shots, though after topping 20 points in three of its first six games, the team has not exceeded 15 over the past three.

While Reich said (via Person and ESPN’s Adam Schefter) this will still be a collaborative process and that it will not impact Brown’s standing with the team, the quick turnaround certainly qualifies as an interesting development for the 1-8 team. Although the Panthers are in a clear rebuild, this season is obviously pivotal to Young’s long-term growth. Through that lens, Reich’s experience calling plays is rather important.

NOVEMBER 14: Frank Reich made it clear before his debut season as Panthers head coach that he would begin the year as the team’s play-caller, but that offensive coordinator Thomas Brown would be handed the reins at some point. A switch was made one month ago, but a quick change in course may be coming soon.

With Carolina struggling to produce on offense early in rookie quarterback Bryce Young‘s career, Reich chose the bye week as the time to delegate to Brown. The latter had never called plays at the NFL level, but his time with the Rams earned him a reputation as one of the league’s top young offensive minds. Brown’s three games in charge have not gone as planned, however, with the Panthers managing just two offensive touchdowns.

When speaking publicly in the wake of Carolina’s Thursday night loss to the Bears, Reich has on multiple occasions declined to confirm that Brown will remain the team’s play-caller. He has indicated, though, via Joe Person of The Athletic, that personnel changes are being considered on offense (subscription required). It remains to be seen what that will entail, but pressure is believed to be mounting for improvements to be made by Reich and Co. before the end of the campaign.

Panthers owner David Tepper has reportedly grown frustrated with the lack of progress shown by Young and a unit which has struggled both on the ground and through the air. Carolina ranks near the bottom of the league in a number of offensive categories, including 29th in both points (17) and yards (305) per game. A lack of week-to-week improvement shown during Brown’s (very brief) period at the helm could lead Reich to take back play-calling duties at some point in the near future, a move which would give the team a more experienced voice guiding the unit.

“However we’ve done the play-calling – whoever’s been doing the play-calling – we haven’t performed as an offense. So let me just make that point clear, first of all, Reich said. “As I look toward, now, the last half of the season, what’s the best dynamic and why? Any decision that’s ultimately made is just gonna be based on that one pure factor. So that’s how we’ll approach it.”

The 1-8 Panthers do not own their first-round pick in 2024 due to last year’s trade which landed them Young. With no incentive to continue their poor first half of the campaign, it will be interesting to see what changes are made down the stretch, and how the offense responds to them.

Panthers Pursued WRs Davante Adams And Tee Higgins, DE Montez Sweat At Deadline

Despite a win-loss record that placed them squarely in the “sellers” category, we heard in the run-up to last month’s trade deadline that the Panthers were operating as both buyers and sellers. We also heard that Carolina was especially interested in acquiring a top-flight wide receiver, and to that end, David Newton of reports that the team pursued both the Raiders’ Davante Adams and the Bengals’ Tee Higgins, though neither club was willing to make a deal. Newton adds that GM Scott Fitterer also tried to acquire DE Montez Sweat, whom the Commanders ultimately traded to the Bears.

The early struggles of rookie quarterback Bryce Young, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, have created plenty of concern among the Panthers’ fanbase, especially since No. 2 overall pick C.J. Stroud is playing at a high level for the Texans and since Carolina paid such a premium for the privilege to climb up the draft board to select Young. However, Newton writes that head coach Frank Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer still believe their plan to trade high-end draft capital — including their 2024 first-round pick — and top receiver D.J. Moore was a sound one that will pay dividends in the future. Likewise, Dianna Russini of The Athletic (subscription required) says that the organization is still unified in the belief that Young is the long-term answer at quarterback.

In order to get the most out of Young, the Panthers understand that they need to give him more playmakers, which is why they pursued Adams and Higgins (they were not alone in that regard, as the Jets made a play for both receivers as well). Adams’ career accomplishments, which include six Pro Bowl nods and three First Team All-Pro selections, dwarf those of Higgins, who has not yet made a Pro Bowl. Nonetheless, Higgins is six years younger than Adams, is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and clearly has WR1 upside.

While Adams is under club control through 2026, Higgins is due to be a free agent at season’s end. If they had acquired the Clemson product, the Panthers would have needed to sign him to an extension or put the franchise tag on him, so his contract situation would have been a priority agenda item alongside a new deal (or franchise tag) for edge rusher Brian Burns. According to Newton, Carolina retained Burns through a second consecutive deadline in which he generated plenty of trade interest because the team views him and Young as foundational pieces of a future contender. Though the Panthers are presently without a 2024 first-rounder, they do have $42MM in projected cap space next season along with six other draft picks, and the plan is to turn those assets into talent to complement Burns and Young.

The latest reporting on the matter suggests that Burns and the Panthers are not actively engaged in contract talks, and Newton confirms prior reports that the two sides were far apart when negotiations stopped in December. If player and team cannot come to terms, Burns will be hit with the franchise tag, according to Newton.

If Fitterer were successful in his pursuit of Sweat, he certainly would have had a dynamic pair of pass rushers to headline his defense. However, Sweat was also in a contract year at the time of his trade and signed a lucrative extension shortly after arriving in Chicago, so the Panthers would have needed to authorize a similar contract for Sweat or quickly close the gap with Burns in order to assure themselves of the chance to retain both players.

As it stands, Fitterer & Co. will be able to focus most of their early offseason efforts on Burns’ new deal — if Fitterer is still around, that is. Per Russini, there are some members of the organization that believe the roster has not been assembled correctly, and owner David Tepper is frustrated by a Reich-orchestrated offense that league sources have described as “boring,” “predictable,” and “lifeless.” Reich, of course, was hired by Fitterer, and Russini says the “message in the building” is that ownership needs to see offensive improvement in the second half of the season.

If that does not happen, then Russini expects changes to be made. It is unclear if that simply means a shake-up to Reich’s offensive staff, or if Reich himself could be in jeopardy. It is fair to wonder whether Fitterer might also be on the hot seat, though ownership apparently is satisfied with how the defense and special teams units are performing.

Panthers’ Frank Reich Cedes Play-Calling Duties To OC Thomas Brown

In the wake of a sixth straight loss to open the season, the Panthers will have a new voice leading the offense on the sidelines. Head coach Frank Reich has ceded play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network tweets.

Reich took charge of guiding Carolina’s offense when he was hired as head coach, a move which led to optimism about the team’s ability to find long-term success on that side of the ball with rookie quarterback Bryce Young and Co. He made it clear on several occasions, however, that he would hand over play-calling duties at some point in the not-too distant future with a well-respected assistant in the form of Brown in place. With Carolina now on the bye week, that time as come.

A report from yesterday indicated Reich would carry on with the current arrangement for the time being, but Week 6 produced another underwhelming performance on offense. The Panthers managed just 188 yards through the air and went a combined 5-for-19 on third and fourth down in a 21-point loss to the Dolphins. Conversations within the organization had led to questions about the team’s ongoing struggles putting up points, something which foreshadowed today’s move. However, Reich confirmed on Monday that this decision was his, not one imposed from the front office.

Brown, 37, has been named as one of the league’s top up-and-coming offensive minds for a few years now. He spent nine years in the college ranks (including three as the University of Miami’s OC) before joining Sean McVay‘s Rams staff in 2020. Brown served as a running backs, and, later, tight ends coach during his time in Los Angeles and he held the title of assistant head coach for his final two years there. His Panthers hire signaled the possibility of handling play-calling duties at the pro level for the first time, and he will now guide the team’s offense moving forward.

Carolina currently sits 23rd in the league in both total and scoring offense, so the team has plenty of room for improvement after the bye. Brown will look to help Young, the top pick in April’s draft, take a step forward from the generally underwhelming start in the NFL he has had so far. Doing so would likely get the team in the win column, and help the front office evaluate a unit which, with the notable exception of veteran wideout Adam Thielen, has not seen signficant production amongst its skill-position group.

A strong showing from Brown on the sidelines would also, of course, help his and Reich’s standing in the organization and quell a perceived need from owner David Tepper to make personnel changes early in the franchise’s latest chapter. Plenty of attention will be on Brown as he looks to prove the confidence placed in him to be well-founded.

Panthers Not Considering Staff Changes; Frank Reich To Remain Play-Caller

OCTOBER 15: While Reich has discussed handing play-calling duties to Brown at some point, that responsbility will remain with Reich for now, as Ian Rapoport of writes. Carolina dropped a 42-24 decision to the Lions last week, but the stripped-down, streamlined offense that the club put in place to simplify matters for Young appeared to pay dividends, as the rookie passer threw for 247 yards and three TDs, both of which were season-high marks.

Interestingly, a source told Tyler Dunne of this week that some members of the Panthers organization approached Reich about the need to be more innovative on the offensive side of the ball, though it is unclear whether those conversations happened before or after Reich decided to simplify the playbook.

What is clear, as Rapoport observes, is that Reich’s future in Carolina is tied to Young’s success. So the HC will need to do whatever it takes to get this year’s No. 1 overall pick to begin living up to his potential.

OCTOBER 12: The NFL’s only 0-5 team, the Panthers are off to a worse start than the one that led to Matt Rhule‘s firing after five games last year. Carolina rallied under interim HC Steve Wilks, going 6-6 and having an unexpected opportunity to take the division lead in Week 17. A loss to the Buccaneers ended that, and the Panthers moved on from Wilks.

Frank Reich beat out Wilks for the HC job, but the two-time playoff-qualifying leader has now lost eight consecutive games dating back to his final stretch running the Colts. In addition to Reich, the Panthers paid up for high-profile assistants. They hired the likes of Ejiro Evero, who interviewed for all five HC jobs this offseason, and Thomas Brown — a Texans HC interviewee — as coordinators. Jim Caldwell, Josh McCown, Duce Staley and the Panthers’ first HC — Dom Capers — are also in place. But the team has not found its footing with Bryce Young at the helm.

Reich said (via The Athletic’s Joe Person) David Tepper has not discussed staff changes with him just yet, though the new Panthers HC confirmed past rumors that the sixth-year owner is frequently involved with football operations.

Some owners kind of stay away and don’t engage a whole lot. Other owners do. And his philosophy is he’s gonna engage,” Reich said, via Person (subscription required). “Listen, it’s only been a short experience, but it’s been a really good experience. … It hasn’t been fun. I wouldn’t characterize [weekly meetings with Tepper] as fun meetings. But those meetings make me better, and I trust they make us better.

Meddlesome ownership obviously could sound alarm bells for Reich, who is coming off an eventful final year with perhaps the league’s most active owner (among those not holding GM titles as well). Jim Irsay began to spin back into high gear after the Colts lost as two-touchdown favorites to the then-downtrodden Jaguars to close out the 2021 season. Orders to trade Carson Wentz and then to trade for Matt Ryan emerged, and Irsay then insisted Reich bench Ryan for an unseasoned Sam Ehlinger. Irsay then fired Reich, despite extending him in 2021. The outspoken owner later said he reluctantly extended his five-year HC. The Jeff Saturday and Jonathan Taylor sagas proceeded post-Reich.

Tepper, who bought the team from Jerry Richardson in 2018, has developed a bit of a reputation on this front as well. Although subsequent reports indicated the Panthers came to an agreement on Young, a March report pointed to Tepper’s Young preference over an early coaches’ interest in C.J. Stroud. Before the 2022 season ended, Tepper was believed to be eyeing a move that solved the Panthers’ years-long QB woes. Carolina indeed swung big, trading D.J. Moore and several high-level draft choices for the No. 1 slot.

Tepper also played a lead role in past quarterback pursuits, namely the controversial one surrounding Deshaun Watson — a journey that began after Matthew Stafford nixed a trade to Carolina. Tepper eyed Watson before the dozens of masseuses accused the then-Texans QB of sexual misconduct, and the Panthers revisited trade talks — along with the Dolphins — ahead of the 2021 deadline. While Tepper joined his Saints and Falcons peers in being unwilling to authorize a $230MM guarantee, Watson had eliminated the Panthers earlier due to some uncertainty about their power structure. Months later, the Browns and Panthers haggled about Baker Mayfield‘s contract for months — despite Rhule and Scott Fitterer wanting him in the building early — before the sides closed the deal. A report surfaced around the time of Tepper’s about-face on Rhule that pegged the owner as “emotional” and difficult to work for.

That said, Reich was not in contention for another HC job this offseason and, at 61, the ex-Carolina QB may not have had many more chances as a lead candidate. His second HC opportunity has started quite poorly, with the Panthers holding a minus-53 point differential and lacking a first-round pick next year. It will be interesting to see how the Panthers proceed going forward, especially if the losing streak continues. The Panthers face the Dolphins in Week 6. Reich signed a four-year contract in January. Fitterer’s five-year GM deal runs through the 2025 season.