The Carolina Panthers have decided on their next head coach.
Carolina is hiring former Colts coach Frank Reich, NFL Network Insiders Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported Thursday. The team later announced the news. Reich will receive a four-year contract, Rapoport added.
Reich's history with the Panthers dates back to the franchise's first regular-season game in existence, in which Reich threw the team's first touchdown pass (to tight end Pete Metzelaars). Reich eventually moved on from Carolina as a player, but returns to Charlotte as the new leader of the club nearly 28 years after he became its first starting quarterback.
Reich became available only after the Indianapolis Colts fired him in the middle of the 2022 season. The coach had spent the last four seasons with the Colts, leading them to two playoff appearances in their first three seasons together, but instability at quarterback contributed to their downfall and led to his in-season dismissal.
A similar tale at quarterback could await Reich with the Panthers. Carolina threw plenty of resources at quarterback in 2022, acquiring Baker Mayfield and adding him to a depth chart that included fellow 2018 draft class member Sam Darnold and backup PJ Walker. All three ended up playing, but not until after Carolina fired owner David Tepper's first head-coaching hire, Matt Rhule. Although Darnold's late-season performance could allow him to make a decent case for returning, none of the three quarterbacks played well enough to guarantee a future with the team. Mayfield was waived in December and claimed by the Los Angeles Rams; he, Darnold and Walker are all heading to free agency; and Matt Corral and Jacob Eason are the only QBs currently on Carolina's roster for 2023.
A more likely scenario includes the Panthers spending their first-round pick (No. 9 overall) on one of the top signal-callers in the 2023 draft. The timing of Reich's arrival will allow him plenty of time to evaluate the team's roster in conjunction with general manager Scott Fitterer, helping the new leadership duo chart a course into the future.
Panthers fans can find comfort in the fact their new coach won't be coming in with zero experience. Rhule's arrival was seen as a big-time hire at the time, but never produced at the level Carolina expected to receive.
This time around, Tepper is aiming to get things right by avoiding a risk on an unproven coach like Rhule, and instead turning to a coach who guided the Colts to a positive place prior to the collapse of their quarterback depth chart.
Reich is highly regarded in NFL circles, having overseen a top-five scoring offense in three of his five seasons with the team (and each with a different primary quarterback). His former assistant, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni, even made a point to celebrate Philadelphia's last-second win over the Colts by shouting to the stands, "That's for Frank Reich!"
In his playing days, Reich was known for working miracles as a trusty backup quarterback. He'll hope to find similar success with the Panthers, who shouldn't need a miracle to become a contender.