Carolina Panthers Head Coach Candidates, Ranked

Panthers Head Coach

The Carolina Panthers head coach interviews are officially underway. As of this posting, the team has interviewed or has scheduled an interview with the following eight candidates: Ejiro Evero, Shane Steichen, Frank Reich, Steve Wilks, Jim Caldwell, Sean Payton, Mike Kafka, and Ken Dorsey. While each candidate has their own strengths and weaknesses, there are a few coaches that stand out from the rest.

READ MORE: Panthers Offseason Preview: Quarterbacks | Running Backs

Ranking the Carolina Panthers Head Coach Candidates

1. Shane Steichen

The Carolina Panthers are still in the midst of a rebuild, and the most important part of any rebuild is finding your franchise quarterback. NFL-ready passers don’t grow on trees, and the few that are available usually go off the board within the first three picks. The Panthers hold the ninth pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, so they might have to take a developmental prospect like Anthony Richardson.

Richardson is a freak athlete and a very raw passer, but Steichen has experience working with a player like that. Serving as Philadelphia’s offensive coordinator for the past two seasons, the coach has helped transform Jalen Hurts from a gifted athlete to one of the best all-around quarterbacks in the game. If he can do the same thing for whichever quarterback the Panthers end up drafting, then he’ll deserve the title of head coach.

2. Frank Reich

Frank Reich fell on the sword for the disaster that was the 2022 Indianapolis Colts, but one could easily argue that he shouldn’t have. After all, it’s not his fault that Matt Ryan was over the hill, and it wasn’t his job to acquire the quarterback. That duty fell to Chris Ballard, who is inexplicably still in Indianapolis.

Reich served as the Colts head coach for five years, and in four of those seasons, his team overachieved relative to the talent on the roster. Despite lacking anything even remotely resembling consistency at quarterback, Reich compiled a 40-33-1 record while making the playoffs on three separate occasions. He’s proven to be a good NFL head coach, and his inability to find a franchise quarterback is the only thing keeping him from the top spot on this list.

3. Mike Kafka

Anybody that can turn around the career of a young quarterback deserves a high spot on the Panthers head coach search. After years of struggling, New York Giants Daniel Jones is in the midst of the best season of his career, and Mike Kafka is a huge reason for that success. Despite losing almost all of their wide receivers to injury, Kafka has found a way to scheme up successful plays and keep the offense chugging all the way to the NFC Divisional Round. The biggest worry with Kafka is that he’s only held the position for one year, so there is a chance that this success is a fluke. However, if he has a strong interview, he could very well get the job.

4. Steve Wilks

Steve Wilks deserves all the credit in the world for what he did for Carolina last year. Taking over for Matt Rhule, Wilks guided a team that traded away their best player to a 6-6 record over his 12 games as interim head coach. However, there are some warning signs. For one, Wilks was terrible during his previous stint as head coach with the Arizona Cardinals, and coaches like Bill Belichick that get better in their second stint are the exception to the rule. Secondly, Wilks is a defensive-minded coach, and in today’s NFL, offense wins championships. Even if Wilks could get this team to .500 on a consistent basis, it’s hard to imagine him turning this team into an annual contender.

5. Sean Payton

Sean Payton’s resume speaks for itself, so we won’t spend time talking about that. We will, however, talk about the acquisition cost. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport suggested that the Panthers would have to pay a premium for Payton’s services, since New Orleans and Carolina are in the same division. Considering that most other teams appear to be willing to part with a first-round pick for Payton, let’s assume that the Panthers would have to give up a first- and second-round pick for the coach.

Quite frankly, that’s too much to give up. Bill Belichick himself said that players win games and coaches lose them, and the Panthers are not in a position where they can give up premium picks for a coach. Put simply, it’s easier to find a head coach than it is to find a good quarterback and core players.

6. Jim Caldwell

Jim Caldwell is the Andy Dalton of coaches. Sure, he won’t lead you to the first-overall pick, but he’s not good enough to elevate the talent on the roster. During his time in both Indianapolis and Detroit, the team played exactly to their talent level. He’s a known commodity, and the fact that he’s only worked with Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford means that we don’t know if he can develop a young quarterback as a head coach. He wouldn’t be the worst hire in the world, but you want to aim higher.

7. Ken Dorsey

Much like Mike Kafka, Ken Dorsey only has one year of experience calling plays. However, unlike Kafka, Dorsey had the luxury of calling plays for a top-three quarterback in Josh Allen. Allen had already established himself as one of the best all-around passers in football before Dorsey became offensive coordinator, so all he really had to do was get out of the way and let the bus drive itself. Perhaps he is the NFL’s next great offensive mind, but you’d like to see more than one year of work to ensure he’s not just the product of Josh Allen.

8. Ejiro Evero

Ejiro Evero helped build one of the better defenses in the league last year, but sadly, that shouldn’t matter too much for the Panthers in the head coach search. As explained earlier, defense alone just doesn’t get it done, so Evero has a natural disadvantage. On top of that, he only has one year of service as a defensive coordinator, so he doesn’t even have a proven track record.

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