Mike Caldwell

Panthers’ Post-Rhule Fallout: Termination, Replacement, Trades

The NFL news circuit was set ablaze today when news broke of the firings of Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow. The termination of Rhule was not necessarily a surprise, as he’s been firmly on the hot seat all year and the possibility of firing Rhule had been discussed “well before” today, according to Josina Anderson of CBS Sports, but it did create a newsworthy fallout of information that is of interest to those who follow the sport.

Many have talked about the contract implications of Rhule’s termination, alluding to the millions of dollars still remaining on his contract. While it’s completely applicable to Rhule’s situation, it doesn’t sound like it is a concern to Carolina. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweeted out that “Carolina is on the hook for this season, but the salaries for the ensuing seasons are offset by what his future college job pays him.” Essentially, Rhule will absolutely get his guaranteed money, but the onus won’t be on Carolina to pay it. Whenever Rhule, who is presumed to be a top college coaching candidate for next year, gets another job, his salary from the new school will offset the amount the Panthers owe him.

It was also announced that Panthers defensive passing game coordinator & secondary coach Steve Wilks will sub in as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season. The defensive-minded former head coach of the Cardinals has apparently already begun to make the team his own. When Panthers owner David Tepper was asked why Snow was fired, he reportedly pointed the finger at Wilks, telling reporters to direct that question to the interim head coach, according to ESPN’s David Newton.

Here are a few more fallout items from today, starting with some ideas on Rhule’s replacement:

  • The biggest nugget to come out of today concerning Carolina is that, as most NFL executives expected Rhule to lose his job, many in league circles are expecting the Panthers to start dealing veteran assets in an attempt to accrue draft capital that might make the head coaching position more attractive, according to Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post. The Panthers currently only hold four draft picks for 2023: first-, second-, fourth-, and fifth-round picks, supporting the idea that trading away veterans could improve their current situation. Trading away veterans with expensive contracts, such as star running back Christian McCaffrey or wide receiver Robbie Anderson, could prove troublesome, according to La Canfora, so the Panthers are reportedly willing to eat some of those salaries in order to facilitate moving those assets. Early reports claimed that the Bills have reached out about McCaffrey and that they did in the offseason, as well, according to Person, but Tom Pelissero of NFL Network clarified that, while every team will be calling about McCaffrey, the Panthers haven’t engaged in any trade talks yet. In addition to McCaffrey and Anderson, Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports expects wide receiver D.J. Moore, defensive end Brian Burns, and defensive tackle Derrick Brown to be on the table.
  • Jeff Howe of The Athletic posed the question today of who might replace Rhule and offered quite a few suggestions. Howe started the list with Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn who took the Falcons to the Super Bowl as head coach in 2016. Next, he mentioned 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. Ryans interviewed for the Vikings’ job this offseason and was expected to interview for the Raiders’, as well. The 38-year-old has rocketed up coaching boards since retiring as a player in 2015. Another name mentioned was Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon who also interviewed for the Vikings last year, in addition to the Texans and Broncos. Howe went into great detail on every candidate, seeming to list anybody who may be up for a head coaching job in the next few seasons. His list included former NFL head coaches including the retired Sean Payton, Steelers senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach Brian Flores, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, and former Colts and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, as well as the current interim head coach, Wilks. Other serious candidates Howe mentioned were Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, and Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. The list essentially devolved into an article about anybody who may make the jump to NFL head coach in the next few seasons, pointing out “wait and see” candidates such as Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith, Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell, and Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale.
  • One interesting name that came out of today’s rumors was former Panthers All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly. Joe Person of The Athletic advised that an eye be kept on Kuechly, who remains close with Wilks and new defensive coordinator Al Holcomb, to come back in some capacity. After retiring from a pro scout position last year, Kuechly has been working as an analyst on Panthers radio broadcasts.

Jaguars To Hire Mike Caldwell As DC

FRIDAY: Although the Jaguars interviewed former Dolphins secondary coach Gerald Alexander for their defensive coordinator job this week, Caldwell will indeed land the position. The Jags are hiring the Buccaneers’ inside linebackers coach for their top defensive spot, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. This will be Caldwell’s first DC gig, but the former NFL linebacker has been in coaching since 2008. He and Pederson broke into coaching together on Andy Reid‘s Eagles staffs in the late 2000s. The two were also each on the Eagles’ roster in 1999, Reid’s first year with the team.

TUESDAY: The name first associated with new head coach Doug Pederson has landed the role of defensive coordinator on his first Jaguars staff. According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, the team is close to hiring Mike Caldwell as their new defensive coordinator (Twitter link).

Caldwell was named as a top candidate for the DC role soon after Pederson’s hiring. The 50-year old spent five years with the Eagles working with their linebacking corps. He was gone by the time Pederson became Philadelphia’s HC, though, so the only connection between the two is the overlap in their playing careers there in 1999.

Caldwell also has experience as the LBs coach with the Cardinals, Jets and Buccaneers. His three years in Tampa Bay saw him oversee one of, if not the best, tandems in the league at that position in Devin White and Lavonte David. That success, including a Super Bowl championship last season, earned him an interview with the Ravens for their DC vacancy.

Now, Caldwell will take on a coordinator role for the first time in his career. It’s the first to be filled under Pederson, as the team is still in search of a new OC, and it was recently announced that former special teams coordinator Nick Sorensen will not be returning.

Jaguars Interview Gerald Alexander For DC

The Jaguars’ defensive coordinator search does not appear complete just yet. A day after being connected to a Mike Caldwell hire, the Jags are interviewing a Dolphins staffer for the gig.

Dolphins defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander is interviewing for the job Wednesday in Jacksonville, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. This continues a swift rise for the young assistant, who moved up from the college level in 2020. The Jags and Caldwell have not finalized a deal yet, per The Athletic’s Greg Auman (on Twitter), opening the door for more candidates.

Alexander, 37, played five NFL seasons; two of those (2009-10) came with the Jaguars. The former second-round pick started 13 games with the Jags during that stretch. While Alexander’s playing career took on a journeyman arc, he has moved up the coaching ranks quickly. A Buccaneers intern in 2016, Alexander moved to Montana State and Cal as a DBs coach from 2016-19 before catching on with Brian Flores‘ staff in 2020. This is Alexander’s first coordinator interview.

Caldwell may still be the favorite here, given the Tampa Bay linebackers coach’s connection to Doug Pederson and experience as an NFL staffer. But Alexander appears to be a name to watch going forward.

Candidates For Doug Pederson’s Jaguars Staff

With Doug Pederson in place as the new head coach of the Jaguars, his focus will now turn to building a staff. Two of the early candidates to be named for consideration are Colts offensive assistant Press Taylor and Buccaneers inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell (Twitter link via Mike Garafolo of NFL Network).

[Related: Jaguars Hire Doug Pederson As HC]

Taylor has a connection to Pederson dating back to the latter’s time in Philadelphia. The 34-year-old’s NFL coaching career began with the Eagles in 2013. Two years later, he started working with the team’s quarterbacks, something that continued throughout his tenure. 2020 saw him add the title of passing game coordinator, though the Eagles ranked at the bottom of the league in most major passing categories that year. He spent this past season with former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich in Indianapolis.

Caldwell would also be a familiar face for Pederson. He started on the sidelines with the Eagles, after an 11-year playing career as a middle linebacker (which included one year of overlap with Pederson during his playing days). He’s coached that position with the Eagles, Cardinals, Jets and, for the past three seasons, Bucs. The 50-year-old interviewed for the defensive coordinator vacancy in Baltimore earlier this month.

Garafolo doesn’t specify what position Taylor might be in consideration for, but notes that Caldwell is a candidate for what would be his first DC post. At a minimum, the hiring process for Pederson’s staff figures to be much more straightforward than that of the HC search.

Ravens To Interview Jags’ Joe Cullen, Bucs’ Mike Caldwell For DC Job

Reports of Mike Macdonald‘s quick return to Baltimore may be slightly premature. The Ravens are not done discussing their defensive coordinator position, and Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen is next in line to interview.

Cullen, a Ravens defensive staffer before joining Urban Meyer‘s staff, will meet with John Harbaugh about the DC job, Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun tweets. While Macdonald was reported to be finalizing a deal, The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec pushes back on that a bit, indicating that while the Michigan DC is perceived to be the top candidate, this process is not finished (Twitter link). Cullen will meet with the Ravens on Thursday, Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com tweets.

Like Macdonald, Cullen spent several seasons in Baltimore, serving as the team’s defensive line coach from 2016-20. Jacksonville endured another dreadful season, but Cullen’s defense had moments — particularly in the team’s upset win over the Bills and Week 18 victory over the Colts — during the Jags’ 3-14 season. Cullen, 54, has been an NFL assistant for the past 12 seasons. The 2021 slate was his first as a coordinator.

Buccaneers inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell will interview for the job as well, Zrebiec tweets. The Todd Bowles lieutenant has been with the Bucs throughout Bruce Arians‘ tenure and was previously the Eagles’ linebackers coach during Andy Reid‘s final Philly seasons. An 11-year veteran linebacker, Caldwell also played on the first Ravens team in 1996.

The Ravens’ search to replace four-year DC Don Martindale has moved fast, with internal candidates (D-line coach Anthony Weaver), external options (Kris Richard, Joe Whitt Jr.) and former Baltimore staffers currently elsewhere (Cullen, Macdonald) coming up in the past few days.

NFC South Notes: Bucs, Falcons, Panthers

New Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will call plays in Tampa Bay, head coach Bruce Arians told The Rich Eisen Show (Twitter link via Thomas Bassinger of the Tampa Bay Times). That’s something of a surprise, as Arians led the offense when he was the Cardinals’ head coach. Leftwich took over as Arizona’s OC after Mike McCoy was fired four games into the 2018 campaign, but he couldn’t get the Cardinals out of the NFL rankings cellar in terms of points and yards. Arians will still have a heavy hand in Tampa Bay’s offense, while new run game coordinator Harold Goodwin will also have input.

Here’s more from the NFC South:

  • Former Redskins special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica has joined the Falcons in the same capacity, Atlanta announced today. He’ll replace Keith Armstrong, who was one of three Atlanta coordinators fired after the 2018 campaign. Washington ranked two spots higher in special teams DVOA than Atlanta a season ago, per Football Outsiders, finishing with better results in kickoffs and punt returns. Kotwica has worked in the NFL since 2007, working his way up from quality control coach to special teams coordinator with the Jets.
  • Armstrong, meanwhile, will take over as the Buccaneers‘ new special teams coach, tweets Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. He’d been linked to Tampa Bay ever since Arians was rumored to be taking the head coaching position, and for good reason: as Auman notes, Armstrong played for Arians at Temple 35 years ago. Armstrong, who was a candidate for the Cardinals’ head coaching job in 2018, was fired by the Falcons last week, but quickly interviewed for a gig with the Bills before landing with the Buccaneers.
  • The Buccaneers have hired former Broncos offensive line coach Sean Kugler for the same position, reports Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). The Bills also had interest in interviewing Kugler before he signed on with Tampa Bay, according to Ryan Talbot of New York Upstate. Kugler, previously the head coach at UTEP, joined Denver in 2018 and guided a Broncos front five which ranked as a top-12 unit in both adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate. Other Tampa Bay hires include former Jets coach Mike Caldwell (linebackers) and ex-Cardinals coach Rick Christophel (tight ends), per Auman (Twitter links).
  • After being fired by the Jaguars last week, Perry Fewell is interviewing for the Panthers‘ secondary coach job on Wednesday, tweets Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. A former defensive coordinator for the Bills and Giants, Fewell worked with Carolina coach head coach Ron Rivera in Chicago in 2005. The Panthers still have Richard Rodgers in place as a secondary coach, but they’ve lost multiple defensive backs coach within the past year. Curtis Fuller resigned as the team’s secondary coach last summer, while assistant Jeff Imamura was fired as part of a housecleaning in early December.

Jets Feared Todd Bowles Had Heart Attack

Todd Bowles was admitted to a hospital earlier today and did not travel with the Jets to Foxboro for the Week 16 Patriots tilt. He’s questionable to coach in this game, and Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reveals why (Facebook link).

Jets officials initially feared the 53-year-old head coach had a heart attack on Friday. The coach was throwing up, complained of chest and back pains and was unable to keep medication down. This caused team officials to become “extremely concerned,” leading to the hospital trip.

Doctors, however, determined Bowles did not have a heart attack but do want to visit with him after the season to see if any action needs to be taken, Schefter reports.

The team announced he’s in stable condition, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets the plan is for Bowles to spend tonight in the hospital. The Jets and Patriots are set for a 1 p.m. kickoff Saturday. Bowles still hopes to coach the Jets in that game, Schefter reports, but the longtime reporter calls it a doctor’s decision whether or not he can travel to New England. Assistant head coach Mike Caldwell would take over in the event Bowles cannot coach.

The second-year Jets leader is normally the first coach in the building, per Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (on Twitter), arriving by around 4 a.m. Anderson adds the energy Bowles usually exhibits was absent today. GM Mike Maccagnan visited Bowles in the hospital before the team left, Anderson reports (via Twitter). The Jets also conducted a staff meeting, which deviates from their normal road schedule outside of position meetings, Anderson tweets.

New York is 4-10 this season after finishing Bowles’ debut campaign at 10-6. Bowles is the fourth head coach to be hospitalized this season, following Gary Kubiak, Bruce Arians and Mike Zimmer.

The 45-year-old Caldwell followed Bowles from Arizona, where the former NFL linebacker was the Cardinals’ LBs coach, before becoming an assistant head coach with the Jets.

Extra Points: NFLPA, Mayo, Van Pelt, Raiders

The NFL Players Association has formally filed a grievance against the league challenging the NFL’s new personal conduct policy, which was adopted in December despite the NFLPA’s objections, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. The union contends that it didn’t have an opportunity to collectively bargain many key points of the new policy, arguing that the policy violates the CBA and that it was adopted “without the consent, and over the objections, of the NFLPA.”

While we wait to see what comes of the union’s grievance, let’s round up several items from across the NFL….

  • Injured Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo has been prioritizing his rehabilitation after a season-ending knee injury, and fully intends to get back on the field in 2015, but he has also developed an interest in coaching during his time spent on injured reserve, writes Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. “I’m just trying to learn as much as I can,” Mayo said. “If I do choose to go down that road, hopefully I can apply some of these principles that I’ve learned from coach [Bill] Belichick in my coaching career.”
  • While a previous report revealed the Packers turned down the Rams’ request to speak to Alex Van Pelt about their offensive coordinator job, St. Louis wasn’t the only team rebuffed by Green Bay. According to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (via Twitter), the Jaguars and Bears were also denied permission to interview Van Pelt.
  • The Raiders have officially confirmed a handful of new additions to Jack Del Rio’s staff, announcing in a press release that they’ve hired Todd Downing (QB coach), Marcus Robertson (DB coach), Sal Sunseri (LB coach), and Mike Tice (OL coach).
  • The Jets also announced several new assistants in addition to their new coordinators. According to the team, Mike Caldwell (assistant HC/ILB coach), Mark Collins (OLB coach), Joe Danna (DB/S coach), and Karl Dorrell (WR coach) are among the new arrivals.
  • Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey isn’t phased by the fact that 2015 could be a make-or-break season for him and head coach Joe Philbin, suggesting that he approaches every season as if it’s make-or-break, writes Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald.
  • The Texans have made some front office changes, promoting Jon Carr to director of college scouting and hiring Matt Jansen to the new position of college scouting coordinator, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter links).
  • We learned yesterday that Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett met with the Dolphins at the Senior Bowl, but Miami is far from the only team to interview Lockett. The wideout, who is generating plenty of buzz in Mobile, tells James Walker of ESPN.com (Twitter link) that he spoke to 28 NFL teams this week.

Coaching Notes: Quinn, Musgrave, Gailey

With the Seahawks pulling out an impressive win today, their defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will have to wait until after the Super Bowl to sign on as the head coach of an NFL team. Our own Dallas Robinson told us that the Falcons are planning on hiring him whenever his season with the Seahawks is over, but will now have to wait until the first week of February to make it official. The team would not be able to sign or announce him as the new coach until after that time, according to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com (via Twitter).

Quinn is set to have his second interview with the Falcons tomorrow in Seattle, reports Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter).

Here are some other NFL coaching notes from around the league:

  • The Raiders have expressed interest in Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave for the team’s offensive coordinator vacancy, according to Pat Sheridan of ESPN.com. Musgrave has served in either position with the Panthers, Falcons, Jaguars, Washington, and the Vikings.
  • The Jets have widely been reported to be close to hiring Chan Gailey to be the team’s offensive coordinator, but Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes that the hire is not a done deal (via Twitter).
  • The Jets are also close to finalizing a deal that would make Cardinals linebackers coach Mike Caldwell as the team’s assistant head coach, according to La Canfora. Caldwell will rejoin Todd Bowles in New York.
  • While it is already known that former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio left his interview with Washington without finalizing a deal to become their defensive coordinator, Zac Boyer of the Washington Times reports that he was not even offered the position (via Twitter).

Coach Updates: Fangio, Allen, Kromer, Tarver

The Bears have requested permission to interview ex-49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for the same position, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN (via Twitter). Previous reports indicated Fangio was released from his San Francisco contract earlier today, so technically Chicago shouldn’t need to ask the Niners for approval. Meanwhile, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com “continues to hear” (Twitter link) that former Raiders head coach Dennis Allen is the favorite for the Bears DC job.

Here’s the latest on the coaching front…

  • The Bills have hired former Bears assistant Aaron Kromer as their offensive line coach, per Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports (on Twitter). FootballScoop.com was the first to hear the Kromer rumblings, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweeted the two sides were “closing in” on a deal. Additionally, Rapoport says (Twitter link) that Buffalo has also hired David Lee as its quarterbacks coach. Lee worked with new Bills coach Rex Ryan with the Jets from 2013-14.
  • After hiring his defensive coordinator earlier today, new Jets head coach Todd Bowles has added another staff member, ex-Cardinals linebackers coach Mike Caldwell (Twitter link via Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic). Per Somers, Caldwell will be named an assistant head coach in New York after the Cards let him out of his contract.
  • It’s been speculated that former Raiders DC Jason Tarver could have a role on Jim Tomsula’s 49ers staff, and today Tarver interviewed for a position with San Francisco, according to Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. Tarver previously spent ten years with the Niners, beginning in 2001.
  • The 49ers will not retain special teams coordinator Brad Seely, reports Maiocco. Seely, a 22-year NFL coaching veteran, had been with SF since 2011. Meanwhile, Maiocco adds that the Bills have requested an interview with Niners offensive assistant Ronald Curry, who has not been fired by San Francisco.
  • The Browns continue to interview candidates for their vacant offensive coordinator position, and met with Jim Hostler today, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN. Hostler, currently a senior offensive assistant with the Bills, was the 49ers’ play-caller during the 2007 season.