New coach, same problems: Panthers struggle to rebuild

Washington Football Team plays at the Carolina Panthers in 2021. Photo courtesy of: All-Pro Reels/Wikimedia commons

The Carolina Panthers had another characteristically bad season, and just when things were looking better, fired the cause of success. The team lost key parts of the team, like Robbie Anderson and Christian McCaffrey, and fired third year head coach Matt Rhule.

After starting 1-4, Rhule was fired and Steve Wilks filled in as an interim coach. The team started to play better, and went 6-6 under Wilks. They went from twenty-fourth in scoring to fifteenth and from last in yards per game all the way up to seventeenth. Their rushing got even better after McCaffrey left. D’Onta Foreman and Chubba Hubbard were able to shine and took over the offense.

Despite this impressive record as an interim and having the support of the players, ownership decided he was still not what the Panthers were looking for. Instead, after the season the team went with the Panthers’ first starting quarterback in franchise history, and previous head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Frank Reich. Reich was also the Offensive Coordinator for the Eagles Super Bowl winning team in 2018. He will also be the first offensive-minded coach in team history. 

Owner David Tepper’s decision to go with Reich, even though Wilks had support from players and fans, renewed criticism of the racism in the NFL, as there are currently only four minority head coaches in the league. 

“There is a legitimate race problem in the NFL, and we can assure you that we will have more to say in the coming days,” said the law firm that represents Wilks in a statement after the head coach was let go.

Since Cam Newton left in 2019, the Panthers have consistently struggled to find a good quarterback. Three quarterbacks started games for the Panthers this year: Baker Mayfield, PJ Walker, and Sam Darnold. They had a combined quarterback rating – a statistic that measures the overall efficiency of a quarterback – of 32.1. The league average hangs around 50. This means the Panthers have had the worst of the worst when it comes to quarterbacking for an extended period of time.

The organization has spent far too much time in the rebuilding process. A team should be able to rebuild to at least a winning record in two to three years. Take Cincinnati for example. The Bengals finished 2-14 in 2019, but by 2021 they had won their division and made the Super Bowl. Also in 2021, Philadelphia had a record of 4-11-1, and went 14-3 this season en route to its second trip to the Super Bowl in five years. 

This largely falls on Tepper and General Manager Scott Fitterer, who have not done enough to improve this team. In the NFC South, arguably the weakest division in football, the team should be able to win more games.This offseason, they need to prove that they are capable of handling their positions. 

Even with all the problems with this team, there is still hope. Bryan Burns and JC Horn can anchor a defense that’s capable of becoming a top defense in the league. In the draft, selecting the right players could mean a winning record next season, or even the playoffs. Carolina could even win the division next year.

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