by Evan Bruner
The short-lived Frank Reich era In Carolina came to an end last Monday following a disastrous 1-10 start. For Panthers fans, these 11 games have felt like an eternity, but in reality, it’s the earliest head coach firing in nearly 50 years. For reference, Urban Meyer got 13 games, and Nathaniel Hackett made it 15 before getting axed. Was Frank Reich that bad?
The short answer is yes. Although the Panthers picked first overall in the draft, the team only acquired the pick from trading up. They finished the season 7-10 and only one game out of first place in the NFC South, a far cry from the worst in the league.
This set expectations moderately high for the young team. While no one anticipated they would emerge as juggernauts in the NFC, given the weakened state of their division, an outside shot at a playoff appearance felt plausible.
However, the Panthers came out of the gate flat, dropping their first six games. Growing pains for a first-year head coach and quarterback aren’t anomalous, but not having their first-round pick in 2024 put more pressure on the Panthers to figure things out.
Early pleas for patience gradually grew to panic and desperation. 11 games in, owner David Tepper had seen enough, relieving Reich of his duties and installing special teams coordinator Chris Tabor as interim head coach.
No one will argue that Reich was a good fit for the Panthers; he clearly wasn’t, but his hasty removal sheds light on a more pressing matter: Who is? In his short time as owner, David Tepper has made Carolina a coaching graveyard. He fired Ron Rivera in 2019, only to sign Matt Rhule to a massive seven-year deal that resulted in two and a half years of subpar coaching. Getting burned by hiring a college coach, Tepper opted to go the experience route, inking Frank Reich in January of this year before firing him after 11 games.
Four years, three, soon to be four head coaches, and three interims later, the Panthers appear to be as big a mess as ever. Firing Reich and Rhule only reveals the Panthers were wrong to hire them in the first place, and a mere head coaching change isn’t going to fix a fundamentally broken organization.
On top of this dysfunction, rookie quarterback Bryce Young hasn’t hit the ground running like many had hoped. Young has thrown for 1,847 yards, nine touchdowns, and eight interceptions in ten starts. The film does little to ease the tension, as his skill set from college hasn’t translated as seamlessly as scouts thought.
While some have overcome poor rookie seasons, it would be irrational to completely disregard Young’s performance this season. For a player drafted for his pro readiness, he was expected to have more immediate success.
Additionally, Young’s limited supporting cast, though suboptimal, isn’t exactly a novel concept for first-overall picks. Given that most first selections go to the team with the worst record the year prior, there’s a built-in assumption that they find a way to navigate the situation.
Struggling as a rookie isn’t worrisome in itself, but it’s why he’s struggling that’s setting off alarm bells. Almost all his problems are derivative of his small stature. At 5’10, 204 pounds, Young is tiny in comparison to the behemoth offensive linemen he has to see over and the defensive linemen who are trying to tackle him.
Such a minuscule frame makes it difficult for Young to generate the necessary power to push the ball downfield and into tight windows. Further, not being able to see the middle of the field forces Young to move outside of the pocket and extend plays, but he doesn’t have the playmaking ability that other undersized quarterbacks such as Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson do. In short, Young may not have the physical talent to get away with being undersized, and that’s unlikely to change.
This could act as a deterrent for the next head coach. Even the sharpest offensive mind can’t make a quarterback taller or a more explosive athlete. They would likely be more inclined to latch onto a quarterback in this upcoming draft.
In an offseason that’s rumored to have several major head coaching vacancies, it’s hard to think of one less desirable than Carolina’s. The Panthers are currently the worst team in the league, without a first-round pick in the upcoming draft, and they have an owner who’s gaining the reputation of an insatiable tyrant.
The Panthers have too many issues for one person to fix, and even if there were someone capable, it would be hard to lure such a coach to Carolina. Reich may have been bad, but he was just the tip of the iceberg. For as challenging as the last 11 weeks have been for the Panthers, the worst may be yet to come, and as Tepper looks to hire his next coach, Panthers fans are bracing for impact.