Five. That’s how many head coaches have taken that title for the Carolina Panthers. Okay, five with one technicality. As fans creep into a new era with Matt Rhule, the sixth guy to do so, one wonders if there’s even a comparison for what’s coming in 2020. He already beats all other Panthers’ coaches in handling a team during a pandemic.
Full-on marching to the new era just isn’t on the minds of many of them as they sit back and watch as everything unfolds. In the meantime, let’s rank the Carolina Panthers’ head coaches; find out where they stack up.
Ranking Carolina Panthers’ Head Coaches
5. George Seifert
Coming in as the second-ever head coach, a lot of pressure comes. You want to make sure that while you’re there, you put out the best product you can. Coming in in 1999, dealing with Rae Carruth‘s allegations regarding the death of his pregnant girlfriend, it’s a lot. He had to do that while dealing with the many other personalities on the team.
The defense was on the come up–Mike Minter was in his third year and, though he hadn’t made a ton of noise on defense as of yet, was helping to shape one of the best defenses to come. Three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries were his tallies that year. Kevin Greene at the end of his career was as much a force as he was in his earlier days. His 12 sacks and 18 forced fumbles were something to behold.
The offense his first year was one that could have been a hall-of-fame team if they hadn’t had to deal with the Carruth deal. Muhsin Muhammad and Wesley Walls were, of course, the cornerstone of the offense which was hard to watch Seifert not make the most out of. And even with players like Tim Biakabatuka and Patrick Jeffers who tied Walls for most touchdowns that season, 12 each, it was just enough to finish his first season at 8-8. The ensuing seasons didn’t make much more than that–records of 7-9 and 1-15 landed him the fifth spot.
4. Matt Rhule
At number four, we have Rhule coming into the 2020 season bright-eyed even though the walls might be crashing down all around him. Not only is he coming amid probably the biggest pandemic since 1918, but he’s facing the world at a time when people are fighting for their right to be equal.
On the other side of his coin is the ability to take teams in seemingly helpless situations and help them find their way back to the top. This is evident in the two college teams Rhule coached: Baylor and Temple Universities. During his time as a college coach, he took two teams below .200 and, in two to three seasons, turned them into winning teams.
He only won one of the four bowl games his teams appeared in (2018 Texas Bowl) but got the two teams to a combined 21-6 record his last season with each. As a high school football reporter, you see your fair share of coaches who do something similar to that. And what fans hope Rhule can do for them is help them get over new New England Patriot quarterback, Cam Newton. Should be interesting to watch. How he does that is getting them back to a winning culture, and rather quickly.
Rhule has plenty of players returning that will serve this team well over the next few seasons. Shaq Thompson comes back for his sixth season and will have the opportunity to lead his defense against some of the biggest offenses this season. With Luke Kuechly gone, there are some large shoes to fill. How will he respond? Along with Thompson, there’s another good linebacker returning in Brian Burns who made some noise in his first season with 7.5 sacks. Look for him to step up during his second season, especially with a lot of young guys taking over that defense. Donte Jackson in his third season and ranked the fastest cornerback in the league, according to Madden ’21, and he’s posted seven interceptions in just his first two seasons.
On offense, of course, Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore are returning. It will be interesting to see how Rhule pairs that combination with Teddy Bridgewater down the stretch. The 2020 NFC South fantasy outlook projects solid work from these guys, provided they take advantage of the ever-accurate quarterback. Rhule hiring Joe Brady as the offensive coordinator is major and will bring a lot out of those young guys. One person to watch will be Ian Thomas who is supposed to replace Greg Olsen. He’s been quiet the first two seasons which was largely in part due to Newton’s throwing preferences, but I think Rhule does a nice job of helping him develop.
In ranking the Carolina Panthers’ head coaches, Rhule takes spot number four.
3. Dom Capers
Say what you want about Capers’ career record in Carolina, but he was the first coach to give them a taste of success as a franchise. As the first coach of the team, he bore the responsibility of trying to create an identity for them which he did fairly well.
There was a five-game jump between ’95 and ’96 which was not easy to come by for startup teams. The 1996 season would be the best one under Capers.
The 1997 Panthers had a few offensive weapons that were overshadowed by the lack of defense on the team, aside from what Kevin Greene did. Blame could have fallen on the former quarterback, Kerry Collins, who had a troubled year with all his partying and conflict, but also on Capers for not having a better on his own team.
After the ’96 season, they finished just 7-9 and 4-12.
Coming to a brand new franchise and producing wins in the second season was a big reason for placing him at number three. Had he done more in the later seasons, there might have been an argument to put him higher, but the next two coaches will prove why they should be at one and two.
2. John Fox
When you take a team to their first super bowl, it says something for your resume and for how much faith the team has in you.
Fox, just in his second season as the Panthers head coach, had an all-star offense featuring names like Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad, Stephen Davis (who scored eight rushing touchdowns and had 1,444 yards), and Jake Delhomme.
His defensive mind fueled the groups he had throughout his nine-year career with the Panthers. The defense was a large part of his success during his tenure. When ranking the Carolina Panthers’ head coaches, Fox was number two because of it. Julius Peppers was a rookie the same season he became their head coach, so he played a major role in Peppers’ development. Their best performance came in the NFC Championship against the Philadelphia Eagles in which the Panthers held them to a single field goal.
Twice during his time with the Panthers, Fox won the NFC South division albeit an eight-year gap between the two seasons. The 23-9 record for the two first-place seasons was the best the team had seen, even though both resulted in falling short of the ultimate prize.
Three trips to the playoffs were the most by any other coach in the franchise, to that point, which looked promising in the eyes of the franchise. But the NFL is also a business and after a two-season skid downward, including 2-14 his final season, Marty Hurney decided to part ways with him.
Fox brought an edge to the Panthers that could not be matched by any other coach, so far, in that franchise. He was number two because of it.
1. Ron Rivera
Ranking Carolina Panthers’ head coaches, Rivera takes the top spot. Not only was he the winningest coach the franchise ever saw, but he produced the only league MVP as well.
Leading up to the ’15 season, Rivera and the Panthers had won back-to-back division titles and was looking for the three-peat. He handled that season as well as he handled the two prior, but without the significant injuries the team endured during that 7-8-1 season.
Newton played at an astronomical level to the point that he was, for the first time in his career, being put in the same conversation as Tom Brady in terms of the numbers he produced the second half of that season. But more than that was his ability to get the crowds excited (something opposing teams’ fans and even some Panthers fans didn’t like) while becoming the franchises all-time passing leader. 35 passing touchdowns–impressive. 10 rushing touchdowns–not something many NFL quarterbacks have achieved.
Rivera played on the 1985 Chicago Bears defense, so he knew what it would take to be a super-bowl-winning team. The defense he coached in 2015 was stacked at every level. It didn’t matter where the ball was on the field, someone got to it whether it was Josh Norman or Kurt Coleman coming with the deflection or the pick, Luke Kuechly or Thomas Davis coming with the tackle, or Kawann Short coming with the sack, this defense was suffocating.
Ultimately, they fell short of yet another trip to the super bowl but even then, Rivera handled it with as much class as you would expect him to.
Newton’s injuries were significant throughout his career, but he managed to play through most of them. It wasn’t until 2018 when he suffered both a knee strain and a shoulder injury that shut him down the last two games of the season that the team started to spiral downward. The Lisfranc sprain in 2019 caused Rivera’s reputation to unravel. Pair that with the fact that the team sought a new majority owner in David Tepper and you begin to understand why he was fired towards the end of the 2019 season.
Still, Rivera left big shoes for Rhule to fill as a player’s coach, a family man, and an impeccable leader. And that’s why he is number one.
Just how will Matt Rhule do?
The hope is that within the next two to three seasons, the Panthers will become a stronger, faster team under the new coach’s tutelage. He will be under a microscope considering what they’re paying him. It will be interesting to see how he takes what he did in college and applies it to an NFL team.
The rest of the head coaches all played roles in the development of this franchise. Whether it was monumental or not, the guys who were in charge of leading this team all did it their way.
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