The Ron Rivera era in Carolina is over, and while a lot will be written over the coming weeks about his legacy, failures and successes as a head coach, for the Panthers, the first question has to be who replaces him. As always, the league isn’t exactly rammed with elite coaching candidates looking for a job, but there are likely to be good options out there if you’re willing to look – and David Tepper says the search will begin immediately.
So who are the coaching options the Panthers might be considering for their opening coaching spot?
Nick Sirianni, OC Indianapolis Colts
If you were looking for the dark horse candidate for the Panthers’ head coaching position, you could probably do a lot worse than Nick Sirianni.
Sirianni has only been a coordinator for two seasons, having previously spent eight seasons at various coaching roles in both Kansas City and San Diego – but in both seasons, he has managed to produce high quality offenses from units that didn’t necessarily enter the season expected to hit the heights they did. While he certainly doesn’t have the same length of resume of many of the other possible options for the role, there are a number of things on his short resume that will appeal.
First, while Jacoby Brissett is a quite competent quarterback at the NFL level, when Andrew Luck retired preseason, there were many who were skeptical of whether this Colts offense would just completely fall apart – few would have expected them to be ranked well inside the top ten units in the league through this point of the season. What’s more, he has shown a real willingness to be flexible with his scheme in order to account for the limitations of the players at his disposal.
Early in the 2018 season, the Colts’ offensive line was really struggling with an offensive scheme that was looking to run the ball with power and then throw deep off of that a fair amount – so rather than bungle wildly onwards hoping that the offensive line would magically get better, he switched to more of a zone scheme which took advantage of the technical ability of his offensive line and then incorporated much more of a mixed passing attack to help the ball come out quicker and from shorter drops. There are many offensive coaches who either lack the awareness to recognize when something just isn’t working and isn’t going to and there are others who lack the ability to change the problem even when they recognize what’s wrong; Sirianni has shown he has neither of these problems, and while that alone shouldn’t get you a head coaching job, being able to design and run an effective offensive without needing elite talent for it to work is a very useful thing to have, and impressive interviews could give him a real chance at landing a head coaching job in the next year or so.
Maybe even in Carolina.
Lincoln Riley, HC Oklahoma Sooners
Lincoln Riley is going to be linked to every NFL coaching vacancy until he either takes one, falls away or retires; even then, there’s a decent chance his name still gets thrown into the hat. The reasons for this are pretty obvious – his Oklahoma teams have been one of the best, most balanced college offenses in recent memory in each of his three years in charge and he has done this with three different quarterbacks, all of whom had failed to play to the same standard with other programs previously. In a world where every franchise is looking for the next young offensive mind in the mold of Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, Riley is going to be very hot property.
There are two slight caveats to all of this, however, with the most obvious of which being that because Riley is such hot property, he is in a position where he doesn’t really need to take a job even if he’s offered it and has said in the past he’s not interested in coaching in the NFL. He can continue to wait for the correct situation if none of the offers he has really appeals to him, and there is always a non-zero chance that he just decides to stay in his comfortable, well-paid job coaching Oklahoma.
However, even if the Panthers can lure Riley away from Oklahoma, there are some parts of his resume that at least merit caution.
The biggest of these is the fact that he hasn’t coached at the NFL level; while there is always going to be some risk with every coaching hire, at least when you are hiring an NFL coordinator who designed the scheme and called the plays, you have a pretty good idea of what they are capable of, whereas any team that hires Riley will be somewhat reliant that the scheme that works so well in college will be able to translate to the NFL where the defenders are bigger, faster, smarter and better coached – this isn’t a negative, it is just an unknown at this point.
The other, somewhat more tenuous criticism of Riley is that his Oklahoma team have been great beating up on poor defenses but haven’t been as good in key games. While he has a combined record of 35-5, he has only ever coached at historic powerhouse Oklahoma in a Big-12 conference that isn’t exactly know for it’s defense. What’s more, he is 0-2 in bowl games and 1-2 against top-5 ranked teams. All of this is a little nebulous, as it’s really hard to compare records of college coaches, let alone records of college coaches with their NFL counterparts, but there is definitely some evidence that when teams have longer to prepare and the defenses are a little more NFL-like in their talent levels, his offenses has not been as effective. Essentially, Riley has about as good a resume as any college coach of recent times, and the questions about him are more hesitations than anything else, but there is always going to be a risk in hiring a coach directly from the college game with no experience as a coordinator at the NFL level.
Up Next: Two Hot Coordinators