Whether or not the Carolina Panthers are rebuilding or re-tooling is the topic of discussion throughout the fanbase. An off-season of sweeping change has led to questions surrounding the future of the franchise as new owner David Tepper begins to put his stamp on the organization. In order to get a pulse on the direction of the team, the changes the organization has made must be reviewed.
The first domino to fall was the longtime head coach “Riverboat” Ron Rivera who was relieved of his duties after nine seasons at 800 South Mint Street. The winningest coach in franchise history retained his job during the first two years of Tepper’s ownership, however, back-to-back losing seasons ultimately forced the Riverboat to dock.
Rivera would later become the new head coach of the Washington Redskins, taking a few staff members with him.
Hired in his place was former Temple and Baylor University head coach Matt Rhule. Rhule has been one of the hottest commodities on the coaching market for the past two seasons; being a leading candidate for the New York Jets’ vacant spot last year (before returning to Baylor over not being able to choose his own assistants) and with the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns this past coaching cycle. The 45-year-old ball coach is known as a program builder from his experience in turning around two struggling programs in Temple and then Baylor.
Rhule’s hiring earned rave reviews from analysts. ESPN’s Field Yates wrote; “[he] took over a 4-7 Temple team in 2013 and led them to two of their three 10-win seasons within four years. He took over a Baylor team rocked by scandal in 2017 and had the Bears vying for a playoff spot within three seasons. The man can build and lead a football team.”. Joe Banner; a well-respected executive who worked with legendary coach Andy Reid went as far as to say “[he] has a chance to be the best coaching hire in awhile. By year three he will be kicking [butt].”.
An NFL coach is only as good as the staff he assembles, and while Rhule is carrying over a lot of his college staff, the Panthers also made a blockbuster hire for their vacant offensive coordinator job as LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady will take over the play-calling in Charlotte.
Brady presents a jarring change for the Panthers as former OC Norv Turner is 47 years his senior. Age be damned; Brady is the current Broyles Award winner which honors the top assistant in all of college football. Brady is renowned for his work with Joe Burrow, whom he helped develop from a likely-to-be-undrafted quarterback to a Heisman award winner and likely number one overall pick in April’s NFL Draft. Brady’s explosive passing attack would go onto to help LSU win the National Championship this past January.
The winds of change did not only impact the coaching staff but the roster as well. Luke Kuechly; one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history decided to retire at the age of 28. The future Hall-of-Famer stated; “there’s only one way to play this game since I was a little kid — play fast, play physical and play strong, and at this [point I] don’t know if I am able to do that anymore.”.
Shaq Thompson, a promising 2015 First Round pick is expected to step into Kuechly’s large cleats. Thompson took to Twitter in wake of the news and expressed that; “[it’s] our time to step up and lead…lost a big piece in this defense and our leader. But Luke set the Standard…I promise ima step up and lead the way the best I can.”.
Kuechly is not the only Canton-bound Carolinian departing from the organization. Three-time Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen and the team agreed to mutually part ways after eight historic seasons in Black and Blue. Olsen bid farewell to the fans promising; “regardless of what path [I] choose, I will always be a Carolina Panther.”. Olsen would ultimately sign a one-year-seven-million dollar deal with the Seattle Seahawks.
Last but certainly not least, 2015 MVP Cam Newton will be the Carolina Panthers starting quarterback in 2020 if healthy. Newton is in the last year of his contract with the team and is coming off of two injury-riddled seasons. After missing all but two games with a foot injury that would require surgery last year, the franchise is now hoping that Newton can stay healthy and guide them through the transition into the new decade.