Anyone who's paid attention to the Panthers in their short history ought to know that Jerry Richardson is not the hands-off owner he plays on TV. He'll hire someone to do a job, but he wants it done in a certain way and doesn't mind making that clear. Witness the great roster purge of 2009 as an example.
It makes you wonder how involved he's been in coaching searches. The Panthers have had four coaches, and all share a single characteristic. Each was a celebrated Defensive Coordinator before they entered the Head Coaching ranks. Of the four, only one had already been a Head Coach previously, and he worked out poorly. Two have held coaching and Player Personnel duties, and neither of those worked out.
The Panthers have also been burned in Free Agency, and they've been burned badly by low character players. All of these experiences have left their mark on the franchise, and you can see the results in the current organization's drafting and free agency philosophy.
And now, the Panthers have hired Ernie Accorsi as their consultant to help them find their next GM. That would lead most to assume current New York Giant's Director of College Scouting Marc Ross is the leading candidate. Smart money also says that even if it isn't Ross, the new GM will probably want to replace the Head Coach.
That brings to mind an interesting thing that Accorsi has in common with the Panthers As a GM he hired Marty Schottenheimer, Bud Carson, Bill Bellichick, and Tom Coughlin to coach for him. Outside of Coughlin, who was already an established NFL head coach, all of his coaches came out of the Defensive Coordinator position.
So if you believe in trends, then the Panthers will probably return to the DC ranks to find their next coach (sorry, Chip Kelly fans). If that's so, there's a fairly short pool of candidates we can look to when we talk about the next coach of the Panthers.
There are a few filters we can apply before examining the candidates. Based on the George Sieffert experience, it isn't too likely that we'll see a retread coach. Don't expect the Panthers to go after anyone who wants Player/Personnel control either. And look for a high character guy who demands the same of his players. Honestly, can anyone really see Rob Ryan or Greg Manusky on the sidelines?
Oh, forget the losers too. The Panthers need to sell tickets, and it's hard to imagine fans getting excited about Jerry Gray (Titans), Mel Tucker (Jaguars), Mike Zimmer (Bengals), or Mike Pettine (Jets), given the points their units allow.
The Ron Rivera experience has probably soured JR on the idea of hiring the guy who's always in the running, but who never seems to get the chance. That's too bad for Perry Fewell, and for the Giants fans who wish he would get another job. Ditto for Mike Zimmer and Jerry Gray. Granted, either of these three could surprise us, but it's probably a long shot.
And finally, forget about the guys who aren't leaving their current jobs. In other words, Dick LeBeau isn't a serious candidate. Neither is Greg Manusky in Indianapolis.
That leaves four serious candidates, for your consideration:
Kevin Coyle (Miami Dolphins) - Kevin Coyle has slowly risen through the NFL coaching ranks, with 12 years as the defensive backs coach of the Cincinnatti Bengals before taking on the Defensive Coordinator duties in Miami last year.
While in Cincinnatti, his units were regularly placed among the NFL's best. And in his first year running the entire defense, the Dolphins have fielded a defense that's fifth in the league in points surrendered.
Coyle is often described as a technician, who's focused on proper technique and fundamentals. He's well respected across the league as an instructor, who has a good feel for getting the most out of his units. He switched the Miami front seven to a 4-3 alignment because he felt that it fit their personnel better, and would likely look to do more of the same in Carolina.
Alan Williams (Minnesota Vikings) - Williams has a lot going for him. He's young, accomplished, and clearly on his way up. His defense has far out-performed expectations; although they are only in the middle of the pack they were expected by many to be among the league's worst. He runs a cover 2 scheme, which he learned under Tony Dungy as a defensive backs coach for the Indianapolis Colts.
He brings a business-like approach to his job, encouraging feedback from his players and keeping egos in check wherever possible. He's not a "rah-rah" type of guy, and doesn't really display a lot of emotion on the sidelines. Players who make mistakes are more likely to be drawn to the side and instructed rather than dressed down in front of the team. He's more of a player's coach than an authority figure, similar to John Fox when he came to Carolina.
Ray Horton (Arizona Cardinals) - If the Panthers want to continue emulating Pittsburgh, they would do well to look to Ray Horton. Horton worked as the secondary coach in Pittsburg for seven years before heading to the desert to run the Cardinals' defense.
In Arizona, Horton has installed a hybrid 3-4 look that routinely shows five and six man blitzes from a variety of fronts in a high-pressure scheme. Horton likes to keep his secondary close, and throws a lot of unique blitz concepts at the offense. His defenses also show a lot of pre-snap movement.
Horton clearly has a lot of talent at his disposal, but he works hard at getting the most from it. As a coach he does a great job from a strategic standpoint, but at times he can be a bit of a loose cannon with his comments and unapologetic attitude. Then again, the same could have beem said about his former boss, Bill Cowher.
Casey "Gus" Bradley (Seattle Seahawks) - Bradley is another fairly young coach, at 46 years old. Prior to his current position, he spent three years in Tampa Bay as the Linebacker's coach, and while he was there he impressed Monte Kiffin enough that the coaching legend reportedly called Jim Mora and said, "I have got a guy here in Tampa that is one of, if not, the finest football coaches I have ever worked with. He's an A-plus. He's a once-in-a-lifetime coach. You need to talk to him."
Bradley runs a 4-3 scheme in Seattle, although the personnel are perhaps better suited to a 3-4 scheme. Bradley likes players who are versatile, and although he fields a cover 2 defense, he throws in a lot of sub-packages that has his personnel moving around and giving different looks to the offense.
His defenses have delivered. Prior to his arrival, Seattle finished with the 30th ranked defense in the league. They fielded the ninth ranked defense in 2011, and halfway through 2012 they're fourth.