The Panthers have hired four coaches, and all four have been defensive minds. They've also had a pattern of hiring coaches who've been around the league for a while. We went through this in our first installment in this series, where we took a look at four strong head coaching candidates from the defensive coordinator ranks.
This week, in honor of the whopping ten yards of total offense the Panthers managed in the first quarter, we are going to consider the idea that in 2013, the big cat may decide to try something different. What if he looks at his team and decides that a more offensive minded coach is what's needed to get the most out of Cam Newton's unique skill set?
Well for one, a lot of Panther fans will probably be happy. Record aside, an explosive offense is generally fun to watch.
For another, it give rise to an interesting question. Who are the hot candidates out there that the Panthers might take a look at? You know that whoever the next GM is, he will want to get someone who will make him look pretty smart, pretty fast. And you also know that there are a few soft "rules" that he will probably follow, or JR will never hire him in the first place.
First, the Panthers next coach will coach. He won't manage player/personnel, that doesn't fly in Carolina.
The Panthers also need someone to excite their fans. And they want to do it on a budget. So don't look for the new GM to overpay by hiring someone with prior NFL Head Coaching experience. Not only are they more expensive, they can also be a tougher sell to fans if their last experience didn't go well. Someone like Mike Sherman won't fit Jerry's budget, and Josh McDaniels still carries the stench of his performance in Denver. Re-treads are probably out for these reasons.
And don't look for the Panthers to take TOO much of a risk. They've hired four coaches, and the four have averaged 20 years of coaching experience apiece, with 12 at the pro level. So you're not likely to see a Brian Shottenheimer or Kyle Shanahan on the list.
Finally, for better or worse the Panthers have hitched their wagon to Cam Newton. So if they're going to get an Offensive Coordinator as a coach, it stands to reaason that they'll want one with solid experience in working with Quarterbacks (and by that, we mean not just holding Peyton Manning's clipboard). Those who have risen through the ranks by coaching the line or Tight Ends are probably going to be in short demand.
Within those parameters, the list quickly narrows down to a few likely names.
Here are the candidates, with a little information about each:
Mike McCoy (Denver Broncos) - McCoy has a history with the Panthers, as a Quarterbacks coach and Offensive Assistant back when Jake Delhomme was making the pro-bowl and keeping the Panthers in the playoff hunt. He's got 13 years of NFL Coaching experience, with four as an Offensive Coordinator with the Broncos.
Currently he has the luxury of coaching a unit led by Peyton Manning, and one which ranks among the NFL's best. However, last year he was faced with the challenge of transitioning mid-season from Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow. In that, he completely overhauled his scheme to accommodate his new Quarterbacks skill set, and his unit finished with the top rushing attach in the league.
McCoy favors a vertical offense, much like the one Dan Henning ran during his tenure with the Panthers, but he also has shown more than a willingness to tailor his schemes to his personnel. He's demonstrated that he's good at it.
Jay Gruden (Cincinnati Bengals) - Gruden is a popular candidate around the league, but he also represents a risk to any prospective employer. He's been in coaching for nine seasons, with two years of experience as an Offensive Coordinator. Most of his experience has been as an assistant under his brother in Tampa Bay, but he's been in football all his life. He wasn't talented enough for the NFL, but he won four Arena Bowl titles as a Quarterback and was a Head Coach for an Arena Bowl team that went 35-21 under his leadership.
Gruden is from the Bill Walsh school of coaching, and would likely want to incorporate aspects of the West Coast Offense if he took over in Carolina. It may not seem like a perfect fit here, but he's been successful with it in Cincinnatti, and he's been successful using it with a mobile quarterback in Tampa Bay.
The bottom line with Gruden is name recognition, and he would probably help sell tickets. He's also done a nice job with the Bengals. But he's still mostly an unknown quantity.
Pete Carmichael (New Orleans Saints) - Carmichael is kind of an interesting case, because even though he's the Offensive Coordinator he doesn't call the plays. But he's been instrumental in developing Drew Brees and making the Saints offense one of the NFL's best year after year. He became the Saints Offensive Coordinator in 2009, and since then they've finished first in total yards twice. And when Payton broke his leg in 2011 Carmichael picked up the play calling duties and the offense didn't miss a beat.
And don't under-estimate how critical the game planning that an Offensive Coordinator does during the week. The Saints have thousands of different offensive plays in their playbook, but probably only 100 on the game day play card. Those 100 plays are chosen based on video tape study and preparation, with a few gadgets for just-in-case scenarios. Which plays get elevated to the game day sheet is every bit as important as when they are called, and the Offensive Coordinator plays a major role in that. So Carmichael may not call the plays, but he still plays a critical role of driving the offense.
Carmichael has 13 years of NFL coaching experience, with most of it as a Quarterback's coach. There's little doubt that he would find a way to get the most out of Newton, and he would come with an institutional knowledge of the NFC South. He's also won a Super Bowl, which might count for something.
Carmichael is another candidate with his roots in the Coryell Offense, which is the system he runs in New Orleans. He started his career as a Tony Sparano guy, and then worked under Marty Schottenheimer for four years before joining Payton's staff.
Greg Roman (San Francisco) - This name may surprise people who haven't been paying attention, but are you aware that the 49ers finished 2011 ranked in the top 10 in points scored, rushing yards, and time of possession? With Alex Smith as the Quarterback? They've slipped somewhat in Roman's second season, but his mark on the franchise is undeniable.
Roman has experience at both the college and pro level, with a career that started in 1995 as the Panthers' Defensive Quality Control coach. He's coached the Offensive Line, the Tight Ends, and Quarterbacks at the Pro level, and he was Jim Harbaugh's assistant head coach at Stanford before becoming the current Offensive Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach to Harbaugh for San Francisco.
Scheme-wise, Roman’s 49ers run a pretty standard West Coast Offense with some tweaks that would play well in Carolina. The first one is that Roman uses his tight ends in every way possible, something that he and Harbaugh also did at Stanford. The second big difference between their current system and the standard WCO is that Roman's scheme takes full advantage of an athletic Quarterback. Alex Smith rolls out a lot, which simplifies the offense as he only has to read half the field, and it also buys him extra time. With Cam Newton, he would probably take that approach to a new level.
Roman's performance has generated a lot of buzz, and he was a finalist for the Penn State job last year. His name will be frequenty mentioned this off-season when talks turn to head coaching candidates. Hiring him as a head-coach might strike some as a risky move, but he has all the tools that are required when looking for a head-coach, and the potential for a high reward is certainly there.
Dirk Koetter (Atlanta) - Koetter is another NFC South coach, and like Pete Carmichael he would come with an institutional knowledge of the other teams in the division. He's been Atlanta's Offensive Coordinator for only one year, but they've improved from 10th in the league to 6th under his leadership, despite offensive line problems and an aging Michael Turner. Prior to his time in Atlanta, he was the Offensive Coordinator in Jacksonville, where he engineered a similar performance gain.
Koetter runs the Coryell system, with a little more emphasis than usual on the Tight End. But the key to his success is probably his lack of predictability. Koetter has excelled at moving players around, and putting them in positions to succeed. Under his play-calling, Matt Ryan has enjoyed the highest completion percentage and quarterback rating of his career.
Koetter has the least amount of NFL experience on this list, with only five years on the sidelines. But he's been a successful head coach at the college level at Boise State (26-10), and Arizona State (40-34). His first head coaching position came at 23, when he was named the coach of Highland High School in Idaho. So there is a lot of experience there, if the Panthers decide to take a chance on him.