Frank Reich became the first Carolina Panthers head coach with a background on the offensive side of the ball. His vision for the Panthers’ offense has now started to take shape as Reich has assembled the key parts of the 2023 team’s offensive coaching staff.
Reich’s assistants include a diverse mixture of experience levels and schemes, which should give Carolina a variety of approaches on offense going forward.
The biggest hire was at offensive coordinator, where Reich lured up-and-coming assistant Thomas Brown away from Sean McVay and the Rams.
Brown has three years of NFL experience, winning a Super Bowl with Los Angeles and coaching running backs and tight ends while serving two years as McVay’s assistant head coach.
“I think that there’s no limit for this guy,” McVay said of Brown back in 2020. “I’d be so happy for him if he continues to ascend but sad for the Rams. I think he can do whatever he wants. I think he’s definitely a coordinator. I think he’s got head coach potential in terms of his leadership and the way he relates to guys. This guy’s a great coach. I don’t think there’s any sort of ceiling or limitations on what he’s able to accomplish at this level.”
Brown interviewed for other offensive coordinator and head coaching jobs the last two offseasons, and the Rams attempted to retain him, although McVay didn’t offer him the team’s vacant coordinator job when he was considering leaving for Carolina, instead hiring an external coordinator candidate, as has been his policy as head coach.
Brown served as offensive coordinator at the college level for Miami for three seasons and has coached running backs for five college teams, including Georgia, Wisconsin and South Carolina.
Brown was a college and NFL running back, and his extensive work with the ground game will pair with Duce Staley, one of Reich’s first coaching hires for the Panthers. Another former NFL running back and a running backs coach for more than a decade with the Eagles (where he worked on the same staff as Reich) and Lions, Staley interviewed for offensive coordinator positions and was rumored to be a candidate for that job with the Panthers after he was hired in an unspecified role early in Reich’s term.
Both coaches’ emphasis on the run game fits with Reich’s priority and the Panthers’ current roster. The team leaned heavily on the run game last season and, with Carolina unlikely to be able to move up to select a game-breaking quarterback in this year’s draft, it’s likely the Panthers will need to rely on running the ball behind a game-manager quarterback.
Despite that, the Rams and Eagles offenses, where Brown and Staley cut their NFL coaching teeth, were known for being creative and aggressive with the passing game, so Panthers fans shouldn’t expect a “cloud of dust” offense this season.
Given Brown’s relative lack of NFL coaching experience, Reich also brought in some veteran coaching talent to help with the game planning. Longtime NFL and college head coach Jim Caldwell, who interviewed for the Panthers’ head coaching job this offseason as well, was brought in to serve as a special assistant and report directly to Reich.
Caldwell is a veteran of more than 110 NFL games as head coach, and he served as offensive coordinator for the Ravens. He’s also been quarterbacks coach for four different NFL teams, winning a Super Bowl with Tony Dungy’s Colts and John Harbaugh’s Ravens.
Caldwell’s hiring means that three of the nine men who interviewed for the Panthers’ head coaching job are now on the staff, with Reich and Caldwell joining Ejiro Evero, who was hired as Reich’s defensive coordinator. Evero and Brown also worked together on McVay’s Rams staff, giving both coordinators roots in the same coaching tree.
Reich rounded out his offensive staff by hiring Josh McCown as quarterbacks coach. McCown spent nearly two decades as an NFL quarterback, mainly playing a backup role with a dozen different teams, including the Panthers in 2008 and 2009. He also played for the Eagles in 2019 and 2020, when Staley was on the staff.
Caldwell and McCown’s background in the passing game will help add perspective to the two former running backs — Staley and Brown — also contributing to the Panthers’ offensive scheming.
The team will now turn its attention to the roster as the NFL free agency and draft prep process hit high gear over the coming weeks. But Reich has taken a big step forward in bringing the team into contention with a deep, diverse coaching staff.