Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper made the decision to fire head coach Ron Rivera after Week 13 rather than at the end of the year so he could get a jump on finding his replacement.
The Panthers have reportedly looked at traditional candidates like former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, but it seems as though the franchise could be willing to take a risk as well.
According to multiple reports, the Panthers have planned to speak with Baylor’s Matt Rhule and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald.
Tepper previously indicated he would like an offensive-minded coach — all four previous Panthers coaches have come from defensive backgrounds — but looking to the college ranks would be intriguing, to say the least.
Would Rhule and Fitzgerald be good fits in Carolina?
Rhule has been a hot name since turning around a Baylor program that struggled in the wake of Art Briles’ ignominious departure. Just two seasons after winning a single game, Rhule had Baylor one win away from the College Football Playoff thanks to a high-powered offense, and now the Panthers are seeking an interview with him, according to ESPN’s David Newton.
Tepper has said that Rhule’s transition would be tough, and there’s no doubt it would come with challenges. One can just look at former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury’s up-and-down year with the Arizona Cardinals, even if he didn’t have as much talent to work with as Rhule would in Charlotte.
More concerning is Rhule’s massive buyout with Baylor, which is reportedly “among the top buyouts in the industry.” That he signed an extension in September could be a sign that he's happy to stay where he is for now, even if Tepper would cough up $20 million-plus.
Although he comes from a defensive background, Fitzgerald also drew the Panthers’ attention. CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora first reported the interview request, which the 45-year-old turned down. Carolina isn’t out on a limb to consider him; he’s been a hot name for several years now, and sources told La Canfora he could be atop the Chicago Bears’ list if they moved on from Matt Nagy.
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