The Panthers decision to hire Frank Reich was based on experience. Desperate to move on from its Matt Rhule disaster, the organization went with a long-proven, reliable hand over rolling the dice on a coach with upside. That decision will bare out over time, but the team is already seeing a huge benefits from the relationships Reich has cultivated since joining coaching ranks in 2006, and now we’re seeing that play out in an incredible (and hilarious) way.
As it stands the Panthers have hired 19 coaches on Reich’s staff, with key positions still to be added. Carolina is on pace to have the largest staff in the NFL, which could result in anywhere between 24 and 30 coaches based on the positions yet to be filled. This huge breadth of experience feels like extreme overkill, and in a lot of ways it is — but it could also be the most genius approach to turning around a team this coaching cycle, and provides the softest possible landing spot for a rookie quarterback.
Who is on Carolina’s new staff?
Interestingly, given the Panthers love of big-name coaches (we’ll get to those in a sec), the team have opted for very talented football minds at all three coordinator positions, but perhaps not household names.
The team hired Thomas Brown last week to be their offensive coordinator. The 36-year-old former running back primarily had a college coaching background before joining Sean McVay’s staff in Los Angeles in 2020. With the Rams he began as their running back coach, before becoming assistant head coach in 2021.
To head up the defense is Ejiro Evero. Another former player with a coaching background with the Rams, Evero most recently served as defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos.
It’s the position coaches and assistants where this staff gets really interesting. Duce Staley has moved from the Lions to join Reich’s staff as running back coach and assistant head coach. Staley said a large reason for making the jump was to be closer to his aging mother, and this was a huge get to land a huge part of Dan Campbell’s staff in Detroit.
Josh McCown leaves Houston, where he was once being groomed for a higher level position, and now he’s the Panthers’ quarterbacks coach.
DeAngelo Hall is the assistant secondary coach. Dom Capers is a senior defensive advisor. Parks Frazier, the Colts’ interim offensive coordinator is a passing game advisor. Jim Caldwell becomes a senior offensive advisor.
The amount of raw talent on the coaching side is absolutely obscene. Reich has assembled a who’s-who of ex-players and head coach candidates to round out the roster. It remains to be seen what this means for Reich in terms of how hands-on he’ll be in talent development, but as it stands this is looking like a unit with a lot of delegation and failsafes so nobody is taking on too much responsibility.
Why are the Panthers so good for a rookie quarterback?
Despite there being a smattering of reports that Carolina could have interest in Derek Carr, their actions on the coaching side are absolutely telegraphing a move to draft a quarterback in the Top 10 of the 2023 NFL Draft.
The reality of taking a quarterback is that selecting the right player is really a small part of the puzzle compared with having a support system around the QB. Lest we forget that even a prospect as good as Trevor Lawrence looked like absolute trash under Urban Meyer’s hamfisted mess in Jacksonville until he found some stability.
Reich has a background nurturing young quarterbacks, which he did with Carson Wentz in Philadelphia. Josh McCown is credited as being one of the best quarterback coaches in the league, and was able to coax every bit of talent he could out of Davis Mills in Houston. Parks Frazier understands modern NFL passing concepts. Caldwell has a wealth of offensive experience worthy of being a head coach in his own right. They will be the braintrust for the air game in Carolina, while Brown and Staley handle the running backs.
That’s multiple layers of support for a rookie quarterback that helps shape every facet of the game. When you’re dropped into the NFL out of college you better hope the team that takes you has a mattress to land on, and the Panthers have essentially backed up a truckload of pillows to cradle whoever falls to them.
What does this mean for the draft?
That’s really impossible to know. Carolina has basically set a landing spot for another of the Top 10 quarterbacks, and it’ll come down to who they like the best. Easily the most fascinating possibility is the player our own JP Acosta mocked to the Panthers following the Super Bowl — Anthony Richardson out of Florida.
Nobody in the draft has the upside Richardson does as a dual-threat quarterback. We’re talking Jalen Hurts/Justin Fields level of potential — with ideal NFL size and arm strength that’s ready for the league right now. All Richardson needs to work on are some mechanical and accuracy issues, both of which necessitate a good staff.
Which the Panthers now have.
So, while it might be believed Carolina would trade up, there’s a very real chance they sit and No. 9 and take someone like Richardson — who would likely be there at their selection, keep their other draft capital, and sign a veteran quarterback like Jacoby Brissett to start in 2023.
Will this approach to coaching work?
Coaching in the NFL is always collaborative, but this shotgun approach to bringing in staff members is really interesting. While it definitely brings more minds into the room and helps support the organization, there is a risk of there being too many cooks — especially if there’s friction.
Reich believes this won’t happen, saying his staff is about having “strong convictions, but no ego.” Though we’ll need to wait and see how that plays out. Until then the Panthers are going to keep hiring anyone, and everyone they believe will help the team win now — because there’s a tacit understanding that there’s no salary cap on coaches, and with owner David Tepper to bankroll a winner he’s spending money on everyone to get the job done.