Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper will soon be on his third head coach in roughly 16 months. But in the final six weeks of this lost season, the mandate is clear: employ a more effective offense and, above all else, protect rookie quarterback Bryce Young.
Sources who spoke to CBS Sports said those are the crucial elements in the final month-plus of the season before Tepper launches earnestly into another head-coaching search where he will look to land a big fish.
"It's not sustainable that he could make it through the season," said one source of the hits Young has taken so far this year.
"The hits were taking a toll [on Tepper,]" another source said.
Young has already been sacked 40 times this season, second-most of any quarterback in the league and far outpacing all rookie quarterbacks. He is on pace to be sacked 64 times this season. That'd be the fourth-most sacks taken by any quarterback in NFL history with David Carr's staggering 76 in 2002 leading the way.
Carolina's offensive line regressed this year to what could be deemed the worst in the league. There's a glaring lack of speed at wide receiver, and there's been a season-long plague for pass-catchers to create separation.
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The offense isn't going to drastically change schematically, but offensive coordinator Thomas Brown is now charged with protecting Young, moving the pocket around and doing what works best for the former Heisman winner.
Tepper fired Frank Reich on Monday after just 11 games, the quickest hook in the NFL for a first-year head coach in more than four decades. Sources said Tepper grew "increasingly more impatient and agitated" in recent weeks as he saw "no improvement in the offense week to week" and, as one person said, "a stubbornness to adapt" by Reich.
As previously reported here, one of the biggest concerns with Reich's all-star coaching staff was there were too many voices from too many different philosophies in Young's ear. The result was a lack of identity in a hodgepodge offense.
After firing Reich and installing special teams coordinator Chris Tabor as the interim head coach, Tepper allowed Tabor to fire assistant head coach Duce Staley and quarterbacks coach Josh McCown, both of whom were viewed as "Reich guys." By the way, Tabor and offensive line coach James Campen were the only coaches who were hired by Matt Rhule, who survived under interim coach Steve Wilks and were retained by Reich.
Many sources were stunned by the move to fire McCown, but another added: "The staff was too big to begin with."
Sources believe Tepper will again likely target an offensive-minded head coach, though defense certainly isn't out of the question.
Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is at or near the top of Tepper's wish list. He was the No. 1 candidate for Carolina in the last cycle before pulling himself out of the interview process just before his meeting with the Panthers and staying in Detroit.
The Lions have the second-best scoring offense in the NFL, and Johnson is considered to be the top coaching prospect in this year's cycle. He'll be able to be selective, and he'll have options.
One name that wasn't a consideration for Carolina last year but may be after these 11 games is Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. Multiple sources who spoke with CBS Sports said Harbaugh should be considered a real candidate for the job.
CBS Sports reported last January that Harbaugh or his representation called Tepper with regularity as Carolina searched for a new head coach. Tepper took a call with Harbaugh, sources said, but it was never a job interview.
Among the reasons Tepper wasn't interested in Harbaugh was that the team had just fired a coach in Rhule who ran the entire football operation. As it was described by sources, even though Reich's tenure resulted in a 1-10 record, there was no sense of relief in the building when he was fired. The entire building was relieved when Tepper fired Rhule after Week 5 of the 2022 season.
Might Tepper decide to hire the big personality that is Harbaugh? It's possible, and sources have said for weeks that the Michigan coach would entertain a return to the NFL.
Harbaugh has won everywhere he's been in his coaching career. And five years into his ownership, Tepper could set aside whatever fears he may have about Harbaugh to bring in a coach with a proven track record of winning — no matter what.
But one source poured cold water on the idea of Harbaugh coming to Carolina.
"He's just as mercurial as Tepper," the source said. "You want a coach that way, too?"
Tepper, estimated by Forbes to be worth $20.6 billion, will be able to outspend just about anyone for a head coach. But money may not be enough considering the reputation he's built in the sports world for being impatient.
When he hired Rhule in 2020, Tepper said he hoped Rhule would be his Chuck Noll. Tepper had previously been a minority owner of the Steelers, who famously have had just three head coaches since 1969.
Tepper has owned the team since 2018 and he's about to have his fourth permanent head coach, the third of whom he will have hired.
One league source described Carolina's vacancy as a "leverage job," meaning candidates will take the interview as leverage for a more attractive job. Tepper's deep pockets could be used to get many candidates raises at their current jobs or increased offers at their new ones.
But it's still one of 32 jobs. And it's one that has the No. 1 overall pick in Young. And it's one that will pay quite well.