Rolling The Dice: The Carolina Panthers, The Present and The Future

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Source: CNBC

The Carolina Panthers fired Ron Rivera, their head coach for nearly nine seasons. This article examines the current state of play for owner David Tepper and his team.

After Week 13, the Carolina Panthers fired their head coach Ron Rivera. Rivera had been the head coach in Carolina for almost nine seasons and had the best win percentage of any coach in the Panthers’ history. Despite that record and the Panthers’ status as a potential if unlikely candidate to make the playoffs, Rivera was just the second head coach to be fired in the 2019 NFL season. Some thought that Rivera’s departure had been a possibility since David Tepper bought the team in May 2018 yet the thinking was also that the move wouldn’t happen until the end of the season. Tepper, however, stated that he wanted to move now on the head coaching position and put his ‘stamp’ on the Panthers football team.

Thus Carolina is searching for a head coach. At least, that’s the presumption. Before looking at potential successors for Rivera, there needs to be a consideration that Tepper might retain his interim head coach, Perry Fewell. The reason this can be considered a possibility is the nature of Fewell’s rise to the top of the team. Fewell had been with the team for less than a year, and was a position group coach and not a coordinator.

What’s more, Fewell has no head coaching experience, apart from seven games as the interim head coach for the Buffalo Bills in 2009 after they fired Dick Jauron. Yet one of the coordinators he leaped over to become the temporary head coach for the Panthers – former offensive coordinator Norv Turner – has fifteen years experience as a head coach, experience that includes a number of playoff appearances. Adding to this puzzle, in addition to promoting Fewell over Turner, Tepper moved Turner from his position as offensive coordinator to special assistant to the head coach.

It might be that Fewell’s experience in a transitional capacity is why Tepper appointed him but the nature of Fewell’s rise indicates that it’s at least possible that Tepper wants to retain Fewell as the permanent head coach. That is far from a certainty, however, so an analysis of Carolina’s head coaching position should consider other candidates.

In postulating where a team might go with a head coach search, it is useful to consider the relative performance of that team’s offense and defense, as the team might select a head coach to address a particular deficiency on one side of the football. The recent performance of the Panthers’ respective units is as follows:

Year 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 (as of Week 13)
Offense ranking by points scored 1st 15th 12th Tied 14th Tied 13th
Defense ranking by points allowed 6th 26th 11th 19th 26th

 

Therefore, it would seem that Carolina needs help on the defensive side of the ball, although ironically that was Rivera’s area of expertise. Yet Tepper’s interest appears to be on offense, given the following observation he made during an interview after Rivera was let go:

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“In the modern NFL, I think there is a preference for offensive coordinators. I think there are reasons for that.”

In addition to a perceived trend, it may be that Tepper is electing to build on the stronger side of his football team. As seen in the aforementioned five year trend, the Panthers have been more effective on offense. They have a potent piece in running back Christian McCaffrey, and a quarterback in Cam Newton who is one of the most dynamic in the game when he is healthy. A lack of a commitment to Newton, however, was also something else indicated in Tepper’s comments after Rivera’s departure.

“I don’t know, because I haven’t talked to that new coach yet. But listen, if I’m a coach, what will I look at? You may say that a coach is going to look for the best quarterback around, so that’s where you’re going with that question. Well, look, I mean, hopefully Cam’s healthy. I frankly don’t know, and neither does Cam right now. By the way, the last time I looked, there’s three quarterbacks on this team. Kyle Allen, who you’ve seen a lot of, still young. Will Grier, who hasn’t been in yet, who we’re developing in a very traditional way, who may be very good at some point, and Cam Newton. So, there’s a lot of possibilities here for somebody to look at if they want to come here, and we’re not weighed down by $36 million a year mistakes right now.”

Judging by these comments, Tepper might be leaving the decision about Newton up to the next head coach, and Newton’s health remains a big question.

The other element of the head coach search is whether to recruit from within the NFL or from the college ranks. On that aspect, Tepper’s comments were also revealing.

“I’m open to different possibilities. I do understand the difficulty of the transition though. That doesn’t mean I’m closing it off, but you’ve got to understand, anybody who’s been around football understands the difficulty of that transition from the college game to here and different demands here.”

Tepper also mentioned that he wants a coach with a combination of old style discipline and modern analytics. If Tepper’s comments can be taken at face value, in sum he wants an offensive minded coach, would prefer a professional coach over a college coach, and wants someone who can discipline players to build a strong team and use sophisticated analytics to build an effective game plan. That suggests a number of possible coaches.

These options will be considered in the next article from Full Press Coverage Panthers.

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