Oregon head coach Chip Kelly is one of the hottest names in coaching, and now the Carolina Panthers are strongly linked to the Ducks' offensive genius.
The potential of a 7-9 season, an improvement on last year's mark, isn't enough to stop some writing Ron Rivera's premature epitaph. An inability to win with what's viewed to be a talented roster, coupled with some questionable decision making has left the second-year coach in a lurch. Rumors are now swirling that the Panthers are deeply ensconced in finding a replacement for Rivera, and are reportedly pursuing Chip Kelly.
Conventional wisdom says that a team doesn't hire a head coach before a general manager, but conventional wisdom doesn't always apply when the focus is getting a highly sought-after coach. In San Francisco the pursuit of Jim Harbaugh began long before Trent Baalke was named general manager, which occurred just three days before Harbaugh's hiring. Meanwhile in Seattle, it was ten days after Pete Carroll agreed to lead the Seahawks that ownership found their new GM in John Schneider.
Jerry Richardson is overdue to hire a big name as his new head coach, and for a variety of reasons it's the move that will likely be made. A need to inject excitement into the fan base, paired with a win-now mentality will heavily influence how aggressively the Panthers operate this off-season.
Bringing in Chip Kelly is a significant gamble -- one that banks on the belief that his mad-capped offensive styling, and player-like swagger will work in the NFL. For as many coaching successes as there have been from the college ranks, another three guys make the leap and fall on their faces. The aforementioned Harbaugh and Carroll have helped ameliorate the bad reputation big-name college coaches carried in the NFL, but lest we forget the abject failures of Butch Davis in Cleveland, Steve Spurrier in Washington, or Nick Saban in Miami.
Those who know Chip Kelly best don't seem to have a fear about his ability at the next level. Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian writes that Kelly in Carolina would be 'perfect':
Could Kelly in his wildest fantasies design a more perfect quarterback for his system than Carolina's Cam Newton?
Fentress not only focuses on why Carolina and Kelly are such perfect bedfellows, but outlines why the Panthers would be far more enticing to Chip Kelly that the Philadelphia Eagles, the second team said to be in pursuit of his services. Like having a blank check and being asked to pick a Cadillac or a Yugo, so too the move for an offensive-minded coach to pick either Cam Newton or Nick Foles is a simple one.
to have a chance to do the things Kelly likes to do, he must have a legitimate dual-threat quarterback. They aren't as easy to find at the NFL level. Newton is the perfect fit.
Couple this with a reunion with Jonathan Stewart, and the offense is built to play to Kelly's strengths, while appealing to his sensibilities as a football coach. One possible sticking point, and it's a doozie, is the assumed desire that Chip Kelly would want to have control over football operations.
If you know the Panthers, then you know that giving a coach front office control hasn't worked well. Jerry Richardson is a man who learns from his mistakes, and it seems near-impossible that the first-time NFL coach like Chip Kelly would be given the keys to the castle. However, that doesn't mean it's impossible. Jim Harbaugh wanted this same control in San Francisco, but an agreement to have the head coach and GM Trent Baalke share personnel responsibilities was enough to sway him to join the 49ers.
This it the give-and-take in the modern NFL -- get a strong-willed GM to run the show, possibly missing out on an elite head coach who wants control, or turn the keys over to a coach and hope they have an eye for talent. A collaboration between Chip Kelly and a first-time general manager like Marc Ross could have a dynastic effect on the Carolina Panthers organization; the perfect blend of mad-capped creativity on both the offensive, and scouting side.
It remains to be seen whether Ron Rivera will still be Carolina's head coach on Monday, but one this is assured: This off-season in Charlotte wont be boring.