Here are seven potential head coach candidates for the Carolina Panthers

By Zach Goins

October 23, 2022

Photo: Mike McCarn / AP

It was only a matter of time. The Carolina Panthers have parted ways with head coach Matt Rhule. 

Following back-to-back five-win seasons in 2020 and 2021, hopes were slightly higher entering this year thanks to Rhule’s collegiate reputation of year-three turnarounds at Temple and Baylor. But the NFL is not college, and Rhule could not manage to replicate the same success with the Panthers.

The move to fire Rhule makes Carolina the first team in the NFL to part ways with their head coach this season, but also gives them the advantage of getting a head start on the hunt for a new head coach and the impending offseason rebuild. With just a few months remaining in the season, that leaves plenty of time for the Panthers brass to analyze all of the potential candidates– and even more time for fans and the media to speculate on which coach will make the perfect fit in the Carolinas. 

Let’s take a look at some of the early frontrunners.

Steve Wilks

Currently: Interim Head Coach, Carolina Panthers

With several games left in the 2022 season, Wilks has more than enough time to prove what he’s capable of as the Panthers head coach. He may not have had an offseason to implement his schemes and fine-tune his roster, but what he can do is demonstrate his culture, earn the support of the players, and hopefully win a few games along the way.

Wilks has NFL head coaching experience at the helm in Arizona in 2018, and many feel his stint was cut unfairly short after just one season. Wilks is extremely familiar with the Carolinas, growing up in Charlotte, playing collegiately at Appalachian State, and coaching with the Panthers previously from 2012 to 2017– a stretch that featured three NFC South championships.

Eric Bieniemy

Currently: Offensive Coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs

It seems like Bieniemy has been the top head coaching candidate for the last three seasons, yet he remains the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator. The 2023 coaching carousel will undoubtedly feature Bieniemy once again, thanks to his perennial success leading the Kansas City offense with Patrick Mahomes. Panthers fans may feel even worse about the team’s recent failures, when they’re reminded that Bieniemy interviewed for the head coaching job in 2020, ultimately losing out to Rhule. While the Panthers were left pondering what could have been, Bienemy spent his time running a top-three offense, racking up double-digit wins, and making deep playoff runs.

Ken Dorsey

Currently: Offensive Coordinator, Buffalo Bills 

The Bills have leached off the Panthers for years now, taking players, coaches and front office members from the team since Brandon Beane took over the general manager position in 2017. They’re actually having a lot more success than the Panthers ever did, and Dorsey is just one example of this. Carolina’s quarterbacks coach from 2013-2017, he now serves as the coordinator of one of the NFL’s best offenses. He’s a young, fiery former player who could team up with a new quarterback to mold the next generation of Carolina Panthers.

Sean Payton

Currently: Retired

This one’s a long shot, but former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton is a name that will surely be in the mix for the Panthers. After 15 seasons at the helm in New Orleans, Payton retired following the 2021 season with a 161-97 career record and a Super Bowl victory in 2010. Payton would be a dream hire for Carolina, but despite being retired, he’s still under contract with New Orleans through 2024. That means the Panthers would have to not only convince the NFC South foe to hand over the coach to their rival, but they would also have to compensate the Saints as well as pay Payton’s hefty salary. It’s a big hole to dig yourself into when you’re trying to start fresh. 

Dan Quinn

Currently: Defensive Coordinator, Dallas Cowboys

Quinn is a name Panthers fans are familiar with, spending six seasons as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Despite a mediocre 46-44 career record as a head coach, that experience will be seen as invaluable in a candidate, after the Panthers rolled the dice with a college coach in Rhule. Since being let go in Atlanta, Quinn has served as defensive coordinator for the Cowboys, winning the 2021 AP NFL Assistant Coach of the Year award after his first season in Dallas. Quinn’s team’s are known for their stingy defenses, but he also blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. 

Shane Steichen

Currently: Offensive Coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles

Assuming the Eagles continue to build on their hot start, Philadelphia’s offensive coordinator will be a top candidate for a number of coaching vacancies in the coming offseason. Steichen served as offensive coordinator for the Chargers in 2019 and 2020, helping Justin Herbert to AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Honors. He has found success again with Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia, showing a knack for working with young quarterbacks. Sounds right up the Panthers’ alley, as they’ll be looking for a long-term answer under center to complement their already stout defense. 

Bill O’Brien

Currently: Offensive Coordinator, University of Alabama

O’Brien has 12 years of NFL coaching experience, seven of which were spent as the head coach of the Houston Texans. O’Brien gets a bad rap for how things went down in 2020, trading away DeAndre Hopkins and being fired after an 0-4 start, but let’s not forget winning records in five of his six full seasons, along with four AFC South titles. O’Brien is known for getting the best out of his quarterbacks– a skill the Panthers will desperately need. The only question is, will the Panthers job be appealing enough to leave the comforts of college football, where he currently works under Nick Saban at Alabama. 

Check out the remaining 2022-23 Carolina Panthers season schedule.

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