Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich has agreed to become the head coach for the Carolina Panthers. The franchise would be wise to pair him with an ascending talent at quarterback via the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Carolina Panthers are the first domino to fall on the head coaching carousel. After a disastrous stint with Matt Rhule at the helm, the Panthers turned the reins over to interim coach Steve Wilks midway through the 2022 season.
Wilks had the Panthers playing inspired football down the stretch, but this was not enough to remove the interim tag from his title. Wilks earned a second interview and was a serious contender — as was Dallas offensive coordinator Kellen Moore — but alas, Frank Reich proved to be the best candidate for the job.
Carolina Panthers Hire Frank Reich as Sixth Head Coach in Franchise History
During Reich’s run in Indianapolis, which spanned 4.5 seasons, he faced constant uncertainty at quarterback. In his first year as head coach, Reich had Andrew Luck at the peak of his powers. The duo won a playoff game in 2018 and looked to build on it heading into the following season.
Only weeks before the 2019 season kicked off, Luck shockingly announced his retirement from the NFL, effective immediately. Jacoby Brissett assumed the starting role in Luck’s stead, piloting the team to a respectable 7-9 record.
The 2020 offseason saw Reich pounding the table for free agent quarterback Philip Rivers. Reich previously served as the offensive coordinator for Rivers with the Chargers in 2014 and 2015. General manager Chris Ballard obliged and signed the veteran signal-caller to a one-year pact.
With the steady hand of Rivers behind center, Reich engineered an impressive offense in 2020. The Colts became a smash-mouth rushing attack, opening up windows for Rivers to attack downfield and in the screen game. Indy lost a tight battle vs. Buffalo in the first round of the playoffs, but a mark was made — at least that is what most thought.
The 2021 offseason brought yet another curveball. Reich and Co. anticipated another season with Rivers leading the way, but the 17-year veteran had other plans. He rode off into the sunset to become a high school football coach.
Rivers’ departure meant another new face at the most important position in the sport. This time, the Colts traded a first- and third-round selection for disgruntled Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. The move reunited Reich and Wentz, who helped lead Philadelphia to the only Super Bowl title in franchise history a few years prior.
The pair failed to muster up the same magic. The counting stats were respectable enough, but too often Wentz displayed carelessness with the football. Reich, known for his offensive creativity, became handicapped by a quarterback that he hand-picked.
The Colts went on a hot streak in the middle of the 2021 season but dwindled down the stretch, highlighted by Wentz peeing the bed in Week 18 vs. Jacksonville. Because of the poor investment in Wentz, the options at quarterback were limited in the offseason for Indy.
After trading away Wentz, the Colts traded for former NFL MVP Matt Ryan. The hope with Ryan was to get similar play to what Rivers gave to the team in 2020. Unfortunately, due to a bevy of reasons, Ryan’s tenure went down as the worst of the Reich Era.
The End of the Frank Reich Era in Indy
The Colts tallied three wins in the first six weeks, but the writing was already on the wall for Frank Reich and his future with the franchise. Following an embarrassing beatdown courtesy of the Patriots, Reich and Indianapolis parted ways.
Reich posted 40 wins, 33 losses, and one tie in the regular season. He went 1-2 in the playoffs, with the lone victory being in year one with Andrew Luck. So, what went wrong with Reich in Indy? What can he do to guarantee past failures stay in the past?
How to Correct Past Failures with the Panthers
First and foremost, Reich must add a quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft. If his time with the Colts taught him anything, band-aids are not the answer behind center. From Brissett to Rivers, to Wentz, to Ryan, Reich never was able to build multi-year chemistry with a quarterback.
As serious of an issue as the quarterback spot is in Indy, the Panthers fan base has dealt with constant misery since Cam Newton’s MVP campaign. Drafting a rookie quarterback would put Reich’s long chase to an end and accomplish the same for the Panthers.
With a rookie quarterback, there will be limitations. However, it is easier to project improvement from a 21-year-old than it is from a 30-something veteran. At No. 9 overall, the Panthers are in a prime position to add a high-upside signal-caller.
The Carolina roster is on the brink of breaking into the postseason. The offensive line improved each week of the 2022 season, DJ Moore is one of the best wide receivers in the league, and the defense is beaming with young talent. Two different quarterback approaches make sense for Reich and the Panthers.
In each situation, the Panthers use the No. 9 overall selection on — or trade up for — a quarterback.
—The Panthers trade for/sign Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to a one-year deal.
—At No. 9 overall, the Panthers select Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson.
Preferably, Carolina would wait until the Raiders release Carr from his contract. Scooping him up to start in 2023 would be a much different move from the previous acquisitions at quarterback. It is clear what Carr is at this stage of his career, which is a serviceable bridge, akin to Jared Goff.
Adding Carr gives Reich and the Panthers the freedom to be patient with a rookie signal-caller in 2023. Anthony Richardson possesses the highest ceiling in this class, so pairing him with an offensive mind like Reich, and allowing him to develop at his own pace is the best way to maximize that potential.
Richardson needs on-field experience, so it may not take long for him to supplant Carr atop the depth chart. Think 2018, when Joe Flacco started the first nine games before relinquishing the QB1 role to Lamar Jackson. I am not comparing Richardson and Jackson — they are different — but the blueprint could be the same.
Richardson’s incredible arm strength and tantalizing rushing ability are exhilarating to watch. He is an underrated processor in the pocket, but working with Reich would undoubtedly clean up his technique. This is the ideal scenario if it were up to me.
—The Panthers trade up for Bryce Young/CJ Stroud.
In this scenario, the Panthers trade whatever it takes to go get the quarterback they have graded highest. Knowing the type of offense that Reich prefers, I like the idea of CJ Stroud as a fit.
Stroud is known for his pinpoint accuracy and elite anticipation when throwing to his receivers downfield. The Panthers already boast a strong offensive line and run game, which would allow Stroud to ease himself in during the opening half of the 2023 season.
The Ohio State star can start Week 1. Stroud’s football IQ is unrivaled in this class, and his natural leadership ability would jive well with Reich’s locker-room approach. He is known to hold everyone accountable, from the top of the roster to the bottom.
I shy away from NFL comps, but strictly in terms of play style, I see a lot of Joe Burrow’s game in CJ Stroud. Stroud carves up defenses when given a clean pocket and can accurately reach each level of the field. Reich would finally have the closest thing (talent-wise) that he has ever had to Andrew Luck.
What do you think? Was Frank Reich the correct hire for the Carolina Panthers? What would you do to address the void at quarterback? Does either scenario listed in the article intrigue you?