The Carolina Panthers took a massive risk in 2020, hiring head coach Matt Rhule and signing him to a historic contract despite his lack of NFL experience. Two years later, Rhule could find himself out of the job with frustrations mounting in the organization.
Rhule became one of the top NFL coaching candidates in 2020 because of his work at Baylor. He took over a decimated program in 2017 and the turnaround happened quickly. The Bears improved from 1-11 in his first year to 7-6 (2018) and then 11-3. It mirrored his work at Temple, flipping the Owls from a 1-7 program (2013) into a team with double-digit win seasons (2015, 2016).
Carolina wasn’t concerned by Rhule’s very limited NFL experience. Since joining the coaching ranks in 19998, Rhule only worked in the NFL once as the New York Giants’ assistant offensive line coach in 2012. But the Panthers fell in love with him during the interview process, signing him to a seven-year contract to keep him from the Giants.
- Carolina Panthers record (Matt Rhule): 10-22
But everything has gone downhill ever since. Carolina allowed Rhule to build the roster how he wanted, bringing in offensive linemen and quarterbacks. The results have been disastrous and with owner David Tepper clearly regretting the move, it’s time for a change.
Let’s examine the best Carolina Panthers coaching candidates who could replace Rhule in 2022.
Jim Caldwell, former Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions head coach
It’s baffling that Jim Caldwell doesn’t get more attention for coaching vacancies. The 66-year-old’s reputation seems to be entirely diminished by his tenure with the Detroit Lions and his firing. But the truth is, this is one of the best coaches in Lions’ history.
Caldwell holds the fifth-highest winning percentage (.563) in franchise history, fourth among those who coached multiple seasons. But his mark is even more incredible compared to Detroit’s other recent coaches. Rod Marinelli (.208), Jim Schwartz (.363) and Matt Patricia (.314) make Caldwell look like a Hall of Famer. Also remember, he coached the Indianapolis Colts to a 24-8 record with one Super Bowl appearance and was only fired after the 2-14 season with Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky at quarterback.
He brings years of experience coordinator offenses and developing quarterbacks. Matthew Stafford loved playing for him and that sentiment is shared by many who were in the locker room with Caldwell. This wouldn’t be a splashy hire, but Caldwell is who the Carolina Panthers need.
Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator
It’s another NFL hiring cycle with everyone wondering if Eric Bieniemy will finally become a head coach. He interviews every offseason, but there are seemingly different excuses for why he doesn’t land the big job. Teams don’t like his off-field issues, a justification that never seemed to be a problem for Urban Meyer, Mike Vrabel and others. Clubs also took issue that he isn’t the Chiefs’ primary play-caller, but Matt Nagy, David Culley, Joe Judge, Zac Taylor and Nick Sirianni landed jobs despite that same problem.
Bieniemy is the only coaching candidate with endorsements from a Hall of Fame coach, rave reviews from the best NFL quarterback, a Lombardi Trophy and consecutive Super Bowl appearances. He’s exactly the kind of coach who can either develop a young quarterback or tailor an offense around someone like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson. Plus, he’ll hold far more respect in the Panthers’ locker room than Rhule seems to have. Bieniemy would be a great fit for Carolina.
Adam Stenavich, Green Bay Packers offensive line coach
Adam Stenavich is an underrated candidate to become a head coach this spring. He joined the Green Bay Packers in 2018 after serving as the San Francisco 49ers’ assistant offensive line coach (2017-’18. While he has never served as an offensive coordinator at any level, this is someone Carolina needs to interview if Rhule is fired.
One reason why he stands out is his work with offensive linemen. Green Bay ranked second in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency in 2020 with Stenavich playing a crucial role in the development of All-Pro center Corey Linsley and rookie guard Elgton Jenkins. In 2021, the Packers played the entire season without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, they rotated a rookie and a backup at center with Linsley gone and Jenkins tore his ACL in November.
Despite the constant fluctuation, Green Bay’s offensive line is still among the best in the NFL (ninth fewest sacks allowed, 11th fewest hits). Stenavich also received an added title in 2021, serving as Green Bay’s run game coordinator. There is a track record with offensive line coaches reaching the top and Stenavich could be the next guy. If Tepper wants to put experience around him, Vic Fangio can be Carolina’s defensive coordinator with Luke Getsy as offensive coordinator.
Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks head coach
Tepper is known for being aggressive, it’s how he made his billions and it led to him hiring Rhule as head coach. That’s also why it’s possible the Carolina Panthers fire their coach just two seasons into a seven-year contract. If that happens, Pete Carroll stands out as a potential option.
The Seattle Seahawks are in flux this offseason. Many assume Russell Wilson will be traded, but there’s a possibility Carroll could leave the organization. He wants no part of a rebuild and that’s the inevitable outcome if Wilson is dealt for draft picks. In that scenario, Carolina feels like the perfect landing spot for Carroll.
One thing to keep in mind for all coaching searches, relationships with a general manager play a key factor. It’s all about who you know and that makes Carroll an even more intriguing possibility. In ESPN’s profile of Carolina Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer, he detailed the strong working relationship he had with Carroll. That’s imperative for sustained success in the NFL and makes this happening a possibility. If need be, the Panthers can trade for him.