Frank Reich’s coaching staff in Carolina includes a number of notable names, but he’s not quite ready to delegate when it comes to one of his most important duties.
Reich will maintain control of offensive play-calling, the Panthers coach told reporters Tuesday — at least, for now.
“There is gonna be some point that I’m gonna pass it off,” Reich said. “I know that’s gonna be hard. I’ve been laughing, I’ve laughed with (new offensive coordinator) Thomas (Brown) about that already. I said, ‘I’m gonna pass it off at some point! I don’t know when!’ I think there’ll be a time and a place, and I think it will become apparent when that is.
“But I think the right thing for me to do for our team and for our offense right now is for me to kind of use my experience there but draw on… I’ll lean heavily on Thomas. I can already tell. It’s been a couple days, and I’ve already leaned on him hard on a couple things. I had a long meeting with him this morning, and I felt wisdom, conviction, strength. So that relationship is gonna be really good.”
Brown’s hiring is seen as a win for Reich, who arrived in Carolina with a goal of surrounding himself with quality assistants and the backing of owner David Tepper. The latter’s support also allowed Reich to bring Jim Caldwell on board as a senior assistant, even after the former head coach lost out to Reich for the Panthers’ top job.
Tepper has not shied from pursuing the top names in coaching cycles in the past. Such an approach led him to Matt Rhule, who became a hot candidate after turning around programs at Temple and Baylor before making the leap to the NFL. Rhule also brought along upstart OC Joe Brady with him to the Panthers.
Rhule’s tenure ultimately proved to carry more weight in the press than it did produce on the field, leading Tepper to fire Rhule during the 2022 season, long after Rhule had already dismissed Brady. Still, Tepper was undeterred this time around, throwing his financial weight behind Reich when it came time for his new coach to build his staff.
“We were able to compete against other teams who were vying for similar candidates where we came out on top because of that backing,” Reich said of Tepper’s support.
The result has included the addition of Brown, a former Rams assistant who has attracted head-coaching interest in each of the last two cycles and is seen as a bright coach with plenty of promise. Caldwell easily could have declined the consolation prize of joining the Panthers, but realized Reich’s offer might be the ideal fit for a coach approaching his 69th birthday.
“Oftentimes in your career, you’ve got to do resets once in a while,” Caldwell said of his decision to join the Panthers as a senior assistant. “Right now, the only thing that I’m concerned about is the job that I do here, right here and now. I’m not worried about the future or anything else. I don’t plan on being a head coach from this point forward, but my focus is on doing the absolute best job for this organization at this particular point in time, and I don’t look any further.
“Now some of the younger guys, it’s a little bit different. But me, at my station in life, I want to be as good as I can possibly be in this setting.”
When the Colts fired Reich during the 2022 season, it was safe to expect him to attract interest from other clubs in need of a new coach. Carolina didn’t waste much time, hiring Reich and giving him the tools necessary to build a staff that would arrive in Charlotte with enough experience to guide the Panthers from irrelevance back to contention.
Such a process isn’t as simple as hiring a strong group of coaches, of course, but Carolina certainly has reason to feel optimistic about its future. Reich arrives with five years of head-coaching experience gained in Indianapolis, where he led the Colts to two playoff appearances despite near-constant turnover at quarterback, and he’s made sure to fill out his staff with lieutenants who possess bright futures.
That group includes Caldwell, Brown, and former Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, who turned Denver’s unit into a stifling group in 2022. With this trio of assistants (and others), Reich believes he’s assembled a well-rounded group that shouldn’t struggle with blind spots.
“Just a diversity of thought,” Reich said when asked about the experience of his staff. “Guys with that kind of experience have been in a bunch of different systems, they’ve been through the wars, they’ve been through the ups and downs, they’ve learned how to solve problems, they’ve learned how to work with players of all types, work through issues, it’s a long season. Guys who know how to collaborate together, work through issues as a staff, as a team. Strong conviction, but no egos. I think experience brings that.
“Sometimes I think that’s a little undervalued. Sometimes I think it gets a little undervalued. But really happy to have great experience on this staff.”
As always, the offseason is peak optimism season. The narrative can change if the on-field product doesn’t match Carolina’s current sunny outlook. But it won’t be without effort — and this time around, Tepper, Reich and the Panthers will hope experience leads them to where potential couldn’t.