Skip to main content

5 Carolina Panthers coaching candidates to replace Frank Reich, including Ben Johnson

The Carolina Panthers coaching search in 2023 landed on Frank Reich, a hire that received universal praise around the league. Months later, a franchise with an impatient owner has made another change and it’s time to evaluate Panthers coaching candidates in 2024

Before Carolina mortgaged its future to acquire quarterback Bryce Young, owner David Tepper signed off on one of the most expensive coaching staffs in the NFL. Reich built a cabinet of bright offensive minds and teachers who could help unlock the Panthers’ offense. Instead, Carolina has been the worst team in the NFL this season and the franchise is quickly running out of patience.

  • Frank Reich coaching record: 41-43-1 career, 1-10 with Carolina Panthers

Appearing on NFL Network, Ian Rapoport explained some of the rationale behind the decision to fire Reich just a few months after hiring him for the gig.

“A 1-10 start, mismanagement, ugly game yesterday. Of course, that was not all. This is all about the development of the quarterback, or should I say lack thereof development of the quarterback Bryce Young…It just wasn’t happening under Frank Reich.”

Ian Rapoport on the Carolina Panthers decision to fire Frank Reich

Related: Carolina Panthers draft picks 2024

Let’s dive into some of the best Panthers coaching candidates in 2024.

Evaluating top Carolina Panthers coaching candidates

Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press / USA TODAY NETWORK

In an alternate reality, Ben Johnson is the Carolina Panthers head coach right now. The Detroit Lions offensive coordinator seemed to be Carolina’s top target this offseason, but Johnson committed to Detroit for another reason. If Reich is fired, this is the first call Tepper will make.

Related: NFL power rankings

Johnson has orchestrated one of the best offenses in the NFL, something view thought was possible from a team with Jared Goff at quarterback and a slot receiver as the top offensive weapon. Yet, entering NFL games today, the Lions rank fifth in Success Rate (46.8 percent), eighth in Expected Points Added per play and Goff has put up better passing numbers than Josh Allen, Dak Prescott and Trevor Lawrence over the last two seasons,

What really makes Johnston a phenomenal coach is his play-calling. Whether it’s creative concepts on a red-zone run play, integrated play-calling that sets up future big plays and the structure of his passing concepts. All of it is done to make the quarterback’s life easer and to strike a balance for the offense. Johnson is the kind of coach who can unlock Bryce Young and fix this offense, even before Carolina adds starting-caliber wide receivers.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines head coach

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Jim Harbaugh isn’t an easy coach to get along with. He left the San Francisco 49ers after clashing with the front office and he doesn’t have the strongest relationships at the University of Michigan. He can be an abrasive coach with a personality that causes some friction within an organization. Yet, he also gets results and that’s precisely what the Panthers need.

Related: NFL expert picks

In the NFL, he turned the San Francisco 49ers into a perennial Super Bowl contender and had Colin Kaepernick looking like a franchise-caliber quarterback. At Michigan, Harbaugh has taken the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff multiple times and was instrumental in the development of J.J. McCarthy.

The Panthers spoke to Harbaugh last spring and Tepper could revisit those conversations. Of course, bringing Harbaugh in means cleaning house in the front office and coaching staff. It would be a costly move, but Harbaugh’s winning track record and his ability to maximize young quarterback’s make him one of the most appealing Panthers coaching candidates.

Brian Johnson, Philadephia Eagles offensive coordinator

NFL: Washington Commanders at Philadelphia Eagles
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest reasons Carolina reportedly hired Reich is because of his head-coaching experience. The Panthers didn’t want to repeat the same mistake they made with Matt Rhule. However, there are only a few bright offensive minds with coaching experience who will be available. So, we look at up-and-coming names that might fit other things Carolina wants.

Related: NFL offense rankings

Brian Johnson, age 36, started his coaching career as the Utah Utes quarterbacks coach (2010-’11) and quickly earned a promotion to offensive coordinator. He then took over as Mississippi State’s quarterbacks coach (2014-’16), helping Dak Prescott improve from completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes (2012-’13) to posting a 56-16 TD-INT ratio with over 7,000 passing yards in his final two seasons. Following that stint, Johnson became the Florida Gators quarterbacks coach (2018-’19) and then offensive coordinator (2020), turning Kyle Trask into an All-SEC quarterback and the nation’s leading touchdown passer.

Johnson has been just as good in the NFL. From 2021-’22, he oversaw Jalen Hurts’ development as the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach then took over play-calling duties as offensive coordinator this season. Philadelphia has one of the best offenses in the NFL, providing Johnson with a track record of success that Carolina could believe in.

Dave Canales, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on the number of NFL head-coaching vacancies available in 2024, there’s a chance the Panthers’ job would be one of the least attractive available. Any incoming coach wouldn’t have a first-round pick, the offensive line is a work in progress and Bryce Young has limitations that put restrictions on offenses. Plus, Tepper has already demonstrated that he lacks patience and will fire coaches quickly.

So, we dig deeper for Panthers coaching candidates. Dave Canales earned some buzz last year after helping Geno Smith become the Comeback Player of the Year with a breakout season. Now as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator, he’s squeezed the most possible out of Baker Mayfield despite the offense being weighed down by no ground game.

  • Geno Smith stats 2022: 100.9 QB rating, 69.8% completion, 30-11 TD-INT, 4,282 passing yards, 7.5 yards per attempt, 48.2% success rate
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers passing stats 2023: 227.8 passing yards per game (14th), 91.2 QB rating (13th), 40.58% third-down conversion rate (15th), 0.097 Dropback EPA (10th)

Canales also spent years learning from head coach Pete Carroll, first as an assistant strength coach with the USC Trojans (2010)) then climbing the ladder from Seattle Seahawks wide receiver coach (2010-’17) to quarterbacks coach (2018-’19, 2022) and passing game coordinator (2020-’21). There’s a common theme in his background and that is coaching shorter quarterbacks (Mayfield, 6’1″ and Russell Wilson, 5’11”). That experience and his relative success at both stops could prove appealing to Carolina.

Eric Bieniemy, Washington Commanders offensive coordinator

NFL: Washington Commanders at Seattle Seahawks
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Bieniemy was one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs. He worked alongside Andy Reid, helping the Chiefs win two Super Bowls and helping Patrick Mahomes develop. Bieniemy comes with rave reviews for his offensive mind from Reid and Mahomes. Not only that, he was credited for the play that won Kansas City its second Super Bowl.

Still, Bieniemy has been passed on for various head-coaching vacancies for different reasons that seem to change each year. So, he left the Chiefs to become the Washington Commanders offensive coordinator. In one season, he’s already made a huge difference.

  • Washington Commanders pass offense 2022: 84.3 QB rating, 62.1 percent completion, 6.8 yards per attempt, 10.8 passing first downs per game, 222.5 gross passing yards per game, -0.045 Dropback EPA
  • Washington Commanders pass offense 2023: 87.3 QB rating, 66.5 percent completion, 6.9 yards per attempt, 12.8 passing first downs per game, 278.3 gross passing yards per game, -0.025 Dropback EPA

Bieniemy is doing this with a first-year starting quarterback who is on pace to have one of the highest sack rates in NFL history. A former running backs coach, Bieniemy has also helped Brian Robinson Jr. set career highs in yards per carry (4.0), touchdowns (eight), scrimmage yards (937) and yards per touch (5.1). With Carolina focused on helping Young, Bieniemy should be one of the top Panthers coaching candidates.

Mentioned in this article:

More About: