Can head coach Frank Reich return the Carolina Panthers to their previous glory?
Only three men spent time as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach before Ron Rivera assumed the role in 2011. Dom Capers laid the groundwork, George Seifert built on his image, and then John Fox took the team all the way to the Super Bowl.
Two Super Bowl trips but zero rings for the Panthers
Riverboat Ron replicated Fox’s success in 2015 when he rode a 15-1 Cam Newton-led squad to a Super Bowl vs… John Fox and the Broncos. Denver would ultimately get the last laugh by securing the victory and sending the Panthers back home with their tail tucked between their legs.
Rivera never quite mustered up the same brilliance in the ensuing years. During an abysmal 2019 campaign, Carolina parted ways with its long-time head coach a month before the regular season concluded.
Remember how I said there were only three guys before Rivera? Well, there have been four more since his departure. Perry Fewell filled in for the remainder of the 2019 season, going 0-4 and turning the keys over to Matt Rhule the following offseason.
Rhule made a name for himself by rebuilding Temple and Baylor after both programs were left for dead — so to speak. The young head coach inherited rosters that only won a couple of games. He turned them both into conference champions in a two or three-year span. It is hard to blame the Panthers for trusting Rhule with their full rebuild.
However, every step the first-time NFL head coach made was the wrong one. From the quarterback position to the NFL Draft to free agent acquisitions, Carolina tried to field a more competitive group, but most moves were for naught.
The Matt Rhule era comes to a brutal and merciful end in Carolina
Rhule coached the Panthers in 38 games from 2020 to 2022, posting a disappointing 11-27 record and failing to parlay his college success into winning football at the NFL level. The team parted ways with the 48-year-old early in the 2022 season, leaving interim head coach Steve Wilks to steer the ship.
Much to his credit, Wilks was the calm amongst the turmoil. For a young, impressionable locker room like the one in Carolina, the steady voice of Wilks offered them hope. And even more than that — success.
In 12 games under the interim coach, the Panthers went a respectable 6-6. This led many fans to call for Wilks’ full-time hiring, as the roster clearly rallied around his coaching style down the stretch. They were one of the best running attacks in the NFL — and this came after trading Christian McCaffrey.
Frank Reich becomes “the guy” for the new Panthers rebuild
Alas, the ownership group and front office desired more from the head coaching position than Wilks could offer. Instead, attention went to the recently fired Frank Reich. In 4.5 seasons with the Colts, Reich won 40 games and logged two playoff appearances.
Before then, he spent decades as an assistant after playing for several years on Sunday himself. Reich is the perfect blend of a modern, offensive-minded head coach with an old-school player-coach mentality. General manager Scott Fitterer saw the 61-year-old as the ideal option.
Reich happily accepted the offer to become the team’s eighth-ever head coach and the fourth since Ron Rivera was let go. He is already laying the blueprint for what the next era of Panthers football will look like. And fans should be ecstatic.
In a clip from the Panthers’ “Camp Confidential” series, Reich addresses his new set of guys. In an attempt to find a middle ground with the players, most of whom are 30+ years younger than the second-time head coach, Reich sounded like a father learning what emojis were for the first time.
Frank Reich tries to sound “hip” in team meeting
Reich started his statement by talking at length about the importance of training camp and the preseason. The stoic speaker said, “We know where we wanna go. We know the steps that need to be taken. And we know this [first] step is critical for a lot of reasons.”
When talking about experience, Reich reminded the group that he is battle tested. He said, “I’ve been around the block a few times. I know what’s ahead of us. It’s a long and grueling road ahead. There’s gonna be some highs, and there’s gonna be some lows. There’s gonna be the expected things that we all know are coming. And then there’s gonna be a few unexpected things that have come upon us.”
The entire room was seemingly hanging on Reich’s every word, and rightfully so. He is such an eloquent, confident, and relatable speaker. And he is always willing to show humility and keep things light when needed.
This was never more present than his next quote. “Ya know, being a little bit older than you guys. I was trying to think— what’s a word that would connect with all of us, not just me?” Reich posed the rhetorical question.
Before anyone said a word, the new head coach carried on, “We’re gonna keep it a hundred. Am I saying that right? Am I saying it right? We’re gonna keep it a hundred. Is that right, Bryce? Am I good?”
Reich asked his franchise quarterback point blank, and Young, not without laughter, told his coach to leave out the r. “One hunnid,” Bryce replied matter of factly. The two shared a laugh, as did the entirety of the room. It was a subtle, light-hearted moment amidst an extremely important conversation.
Will Frank Reich bring success back to the franchise? Only time will tell
That is where Reich excels. His in-game coaching leaves much to be desired at times, as he is stubborn and rarely adjusts during the game. However, his over .500 record in the face of such quarterback controversy in Indy speaks for itself. Even if Frank Reich isn’t the perfect coach from an X’s and O’s perspective, it is hard to imagine a better mentor for Bryce Young.
The roster is better than most expect. The offensive line should be better than it performed in the preseason opener vs. the Jets. Miles Sanders joining the backfield should boost an already stout run game. Plus, the pass-catching group boasts some supremely underrated wideouts like veterans Adam Thielen and D.J. Chark.
Defensively, Derrick Brown, Brian Burns, Jaycee Horn, and Jeremy Chinn make the engine go. If all four remain healthy for the 2023 season, the Panthers have a realistic shot at taking advantage of a weak NFC South. If Young leads Carolina to a playoff berth in Year 1, no one who watched him at Alabama would view it as a shock.