Panthers hire Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator

The former Giants coach brings a fast-paced philosophy to a unit that struggled

The Panthers have hired former Giants head coach Ben McAdoo to be their new offensive coordinator. (Mark Tenally / AP Photo)

Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule reportedly needed a “rock star” hire at offensive coordinator. Rhule has made his hire, but it’s not clear whether it will have Panthers fans holding up lighters for an encore or banging their heads next season.

The Panthers closed their search for an offensive coordinator by hiring former New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo to run the show next season. The decision came after a two-week stretch where the team was linked to former head coaches Bill O’Brien and Jay Gruden as well as Rams coordinator Kevin O’Connell and Colts running backs coach — and former Duke Blue Devil — Scottie Montgomery.

McAdoo had a less than stellar run as a head coach, going 13-15 in two seasons with the Giants before getting fired late in the 2017 season. McAdoo took the Giants to their first playoff game in five years in his first season at the helm, going 11-5 with a first-round postseason loss.

The next season things went south, and, in a discouraging sign for Panthers fans, the offense was a main factor in the downturn. The Giants lost their first five games and were eliminated from the playoff chase in November. McAdoo was fired when the team was 2-10.

“Our offense was supposed to be better, and we added some receivers and a couple tight ends. We were supposed to be better,” owner John Mara said when announcing the firing. “We got off to a very poor start on offense.”

Midway through the season, McAdoo made the controversial decision to bench longtime starter and two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning in favor of Geno Smith. Mara said that decision wasn’t a factor in McAdoo’s firing, saying, “I had the power to overrule it if I wanted to. I chose not to.”

While the aborted head coaching stint doesn’t bode well for the Panthers, McAdoo has a long coaching resume, including success in the offensive coordinator position. He’s been in the NFL since 2004 and had spots on the Saints, 49ers, Packers, Giants, Jaguars and Cowboys staffs.

He took over as Giants offensive coordinator in 2014, inheriting an offense that ranked No. 28 in the NFL in scoring. Under McAdoo, it jumped to No. 13 in the first year and No. 6 in the next, earning McAdoo a promotion to head coach.

McAdoo’s offenses have relied on a high tempo, with quarterbacks running no-huddle and snapping the ball as quickly as possible. His goal with the Giants was to have the offense produce at least 53 runs and completed passes per game, which he called the “Rule of 53.”

The offenses produced big numbers in the yardage and points categories, thanks in large part to the high volume of plays run. The Giants ranked in the top 10 in yardage with McAdoo as coordinator. On a per-play basis, however, the team was nowhere near as efficient, ranking in the middle of the pack when he was coordinator and sliding into the 20s (out of 32 teams) when he took over as head coach.

He also looks to have tough, physical players on his offense, praising guys for their “saltiness” and “combat ability.”

Now McAdoo inherits an offense that ranked No. 29 in points and 30th in yardage last season. How well will his style translate to the returning players in Carolina?

Sam Darnold is no stranger to the no-huddle, using that offense frequently in college. USC was at its best under Darnold when the Trojans were playing up-tempo.

“When they’re getting tired, we try to go faster tempo to get things going,” Darnold said during his college career.

Cam Newton, the other candidate for Panthers starting quarterback, also was at his best when running the no-huddle. The team started giving Newton the freedom to call plays at the line just before its Super Bowl season.

“He does a good job of recognizing the defense and he does a good job of keeping it going,” former center Ryan Kalil said of Newton in the no-huddle. “I thought obviously we were able to get in more of a rhythm. Not that the huddle stuff wasn’t effective, but for whatever reason, we were able to keep the momentum going and keep them on their heels and finish. That’s what you want to do.”

With a versatile player like Christian McCaffrey in the backfield, the Panthers have a weapon that will help support a fast-paced offense, and the team has plenty of returning receiver talent as well.

McAdoo may not fit the rock-star mold, but his experience and a style that seems to fit the Panthers’ personnel could result in some beautiful music being played on offense next season.