May 21, 2024

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper fired head coach Frank Reich Monday morning, following their 17-10 road loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Carolina has the worst record in the NFL at 1-10, tied for its worst 11-game start (2001, 2010).

Special teams coach Chris Tabor has been appointed as interim head coach, while offensive coordinator Thomas Brown will assume playcalling duties with help from senior assistant Jim Caldwell.

Reich was fired as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in Week 9 last season, his fourth leading that team. He is now the first head coach since the 1970 merger to be fired in back-to-back seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Reich’s tenure as Panthers head coach is the second shortest in the NFL since 1970.

Last offseason, the Panthers traded their 2024 first-round pick in order to move up in the 2023 draft and take Bryce Young at No. 1. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Reich joins Urban Meyer (Jaguars, 2021) as the only other head coach in the common draft era (since 1967) to not finish their first season with a team after drafting a quarterback No. 1 overall (Meyer coached 13 games with Trevor Lawrence).

This is the second straight season that Tepper has fired his head coach, as he let Matt Rhule go after a 1-4 start last season, making the Panthers the fourth team to make a midseason change in back-to-back seasons (1961-62 Raiders, 1975-76 Jets,1985-86 Bills), according to Elias.

The Panthers haven’t made the playoffs since 2017, and their 30-63 record since then is second worst to only the New York Jets.

Nothing has gone right this season, as the Panthers are the only team to rank in the bottom five in points per game on offense and points per game allowed on defense, while their offensive and defensive efficiency each rank 30th. And since 2000, Jimmy Clausen (Panthers, 2010) is the only NFL quarterback who has averaged fewer yards per dropback than Young (4.2) has this season.

What’s next for the Panthers as they try to turn things around again? ESPN reporters David Newton and Jeremy Fowler break it down:


Why fire Reich now?

Simple: Reich was hired because of his successful history of building offenses and developing quarterbacks, but the Panthers’ offense and the development of Young as their franchise quarterback were going nowhere. The offense ranks 30th in the NFL and is coming off a second straight game of scoring 10 points after Reich resumed playcalling duties from offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, who had the role for three games. The Panthers have gone five straight games scoring 15 or fewer points.

Young wasn’t getting better. If anything, he was getting worse. His Total QBR has ranked near the bottom of the league all season (currently 29th). There was no need to continue the charade that things would turn around, because there was no evidence it would. That Reich consistently said after losses that he had the players to win didn’t help, and neither did the fact the offensive unit he worked in concert with general manager Scott Fitterer to build around Young has failed miserably. There simply was no reason to continue on this path. — Newton

Why did the Reich/Young relationship fail to launch?

It wasn’t so much the relationship that failed — it was the failure to build a team around Young that could succeed.

Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer moved forward with an offensive line that in 2022 was successful the second half of the season when Carolina turned to a power running game, but was horrid the first half of the season when Rhule and his staff tried to run a spread offense.

Reich’s spread offense typically features four to five receivers, which left Young vulnerable behind a group that couldn’t protect him. He has been sacked 40 times, tied for fifth most by a player through his first 10 games since sacks were first tracked in 1963. He was pressured an NFL-high 14 times Sunday. Then there was the lack of receiving weapons around Young. Outside of wide receiver veteran Adam Thielen, nobody Reich brought in produced consistently.

Ultimately, Reich failed Young. — Newton

Who is interim head coach Chris Tabor?

Carolina’s special teams coach is one of the few holdovers from Rhule’s staff. His strength is dealing with people and messaging, so from that standpoint, he is ideal to serve as the interim coach. Plus, there’s little chance Tepper will be faced with the decision of whether to make Tabor the permanent coach after the season, unlike last season with Steve Wilks, who almost led the Panthers to the playoffs with a 6-6 finish. Tepper took a lot of heat for not giving Wilks the job.

Tabor has been a head coach only once, in 2001 for Culver-Stockton College in Missouri. He was an interim coach in the NFL briefly for the Chicago Bears in 2021 after head coach Matt Nagy tested positive for COVID. His history in the NFL has been on special teams, particularly for the Bears. Again, he’s not expected to be a part of the search process for the next coach. — Newton

What will Jim Caldwell’s influence be as special adviser on offense?

Caldwell, 68, will help give Brown, the offensive coordinator, guidance as he resumes playcalling duties again. Caldwell has a long history of offensive success as an NFL head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Brown is a former NFL running back who also coached the position. So look for Caldwell to provide insight in the passing game and help develop Young as he did with Peyton Manning during his time with the Indianapolis Colts. This feels like it’s more about helping Young than anything. — Newton

Could GM Scott Fitterer or others be in danger?

I don’t get the sense that anyone in Carolina feels overly safe right now. Collateral damage could be a factor amid massive change that has billowed over the franchise the past 14 months, dating back to the Rhule firing. But Fitterer has maintained a good relationship with Tepper since his 2021 hiring, so perhaps that absolves him here.

The decisions to draft Young and hire Reich don’t fall solely on Fitterer — Panthers brass was unanimous on both decisions.

Fitterer is well liked and works well with others. Clearly, though, the Panthers have missed often in the past three drafts. Franchise pillars are scarce and so is quality depth. The offensive line, which includes former No. 6 overall pick Ikem Ekwonu, has regressed. And with no first-round pick in 2024, Tepper needs a personnel head to do more with less in April. Maybe that’s Fitterer. But the pressure is on, regardless. — Fowler

What are the offseason prospects to improve talent?

The Panthers should look to acquire more draft capital. Offseason contract negotiations with linebacker Brian Burns were rocky, so a sign-and-trade scenario off the franchise tag could aid the rebuild (Carolina might not get the two first-rounders and more like the Rams offered last year, but Burns remains a coveted talent). In a perfect world, the Panthers would like to keep Burns and pair him with a top-shelf bookend pass-rusher (Carolina looked into Washington’s Montez Sweat and Chase Young at the trade deadline, for example).

Adding a vertical threat on offense is a must. Free agent receiver Tee Higgins should be atop the priority list. He’d be a perfect complement to Young. And with an estimated $39 million in cap space next year, addressing needs such as receiver or pass-rusher in free agency should be no problem.

Injuries have left Carolina thin at offensive guard, a position with plenty of impact players available in 2024 free agency. The NFL is built on parity, where a series of sound roster moves can elevate a team back into the playoff mix in a hurry. But this is a team that has traded away too many picks and needs to conserve what it has, possibly adding to it. — Fowler

play

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Could Frank Reich’s firing spark Bryce Young?

Field Yates and Mike Clay analyze how Frank Reich’s firing may affect Bryce Young.

What’s the temperature in the locker room?

Frustration over losing is the main thing. There never was the sense that Reich lost the locker room. Most players spoke highly of Reich and his ability to remain consistent even during the trying times. Team leaders like Young and Thielen consistently defended Reich, saying it was on the players to produce. — Newton

Who are potential candidates Tepper may target as the next head coach?

Carolina has quality in-house candidates in defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and offensive coordinator Brown. But it wouldn’t be shocking if Tepper looks externally for the second consecutive year. Last offseason, Carolina had interest in Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, who opted to stay in Detroit and will be high on teams’ wish lists this cycle. While Carolina might not be the top job available, there are only 32 available and money talks. Also fitting the young offensive wizard mold are Philadelphia’s Brian Johnson and Houston’s Bobby Slowik, both 36.

Dallas’ Dan Quinn and Baltimore’s Mike Macdonald should be hot names on the defensive side, with usual suspects such as Cincinnati’s Lou Anarumo and Detroit’s Aaron Glenn figuring to be back on the circuit.

But, really, Carolina should prioritize leadership. Last year was about getting an offensive guy, and Rhule was the trendy collegiate name four years ago. You never know from where the right candidate will emerge. Word is Shane Steichen did not impress in his Carolina interview last year. Now, he’s got the Colts at 6-5 with a backup quarterback. Success can come from anywhere. — Fowler

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