The Los Angeles Chargers hired former University of Michigan and San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh last night. The well-experienced head coach is expected to more-or-less immediately turbo charge the entire organization, including franchise quarterback Justin Herbert, into contenders in the AFC West. Somebody, somewhere is already taking odds on an AFC Championship game between them and brother John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens team next season.
The New England Patriots, Las Vegas Raiders, and Tennessee Titans have all made hires for their vacant head coaching positions as well with Jerod Mayo, Antonio Pierce, and Brian Callahan, respectively.
That leaves the Atlanta Falcons, the Carolina Panthers, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Washington Commanders yet to fill their vacancies. The Seahawks have been heavily tied to current Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator and former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, while the Falcons have shown the most interest of anybody in Bill Belichick. Meanwhile the Panthers and the Commanders have both made no secret of Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson being their top choice.
With four openings remaining, there are more candidates for the Panthers job than there are HC seats around the league. There are the former HC-types like Belichick, Quinn, Mike Vrabel, and current Los Angeles Rams’ defensive coordinator Raheem Morris—all, interestingly enough, from a defensive background. Then there are the up-and-coming offensive coordinator types like Johnson, Houston Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dave Canales. There are also offensive coordinators like the Miami Dolphins’ Frank Smith and the Baltimore Ravens’ Todd Monken for whom interest has cooled, but they could still be in the mix.That’s not to mention Ejiro Evero and Mike Macdonald, defensive coordinators who are still waiting for an opportunity to run his own show.
That is ten qualified or buzz-worthy candidates for four spots. Much of Panthers fandom is clamoring for the next offensive genius after years of empty suits and overly conservative defensive minds, but the fact of the matter is that they could do a lot worse than, say, Vrabel, Morris, or Evero. Add in the fact that they are the only team interested in Canales at the moment, and the Panthers seem well positioned to hire a coach they can believe in.
Yesterday saw Joe Person of the Athletic reporting that, while a lot of people have played Connect the Dots between newish General Manager Dan Morgan and Canales, Johnson remains the organization’s top target. Johnson, Macdonald, and Monken are all still in the playoffs and have to wait until they are out to interview in person for any of these jobs. That’s actually OK for the Panthers (and every other team). There are a wealth of good candidates for them to fall back on.
Vrabel is reportedly in Charlotte today for his first interview. News of the organization’s interest in him broke yesterday. They are still turning over every stone while biding their time to make a serious, big money run at Johnson. I love seeing the Panthers doing their homework. We may not know who they are ultimately going to hire as head coach—hell, we may not trust the people doing the hiring—but we do know that they are doing their due diligence on almost every possible candidate.