Panthers owner David Tepper’s first significant imprint on the team could be an intriguing one.
Per a source with knowledge of the team’s plan, an “outside the box” coaching hire isn’t out of the question in Carolina. While that’s a broad statement that seemingly would encompass any hiring beyond the conventional universe of candidates ( offensive/defensive coordinator with no head-coaching experience, former NFL head coach, college head coach), the acknowledgement of an outside-the-box move came in direct response to the question of whether the Panthers would pursue a coach who currently serves as the head coach of another team.
Under league rules, that’s permissible. The formal procedure entails the team contacting the coach’s current team, expressing an interest in hiring him, and engaging in negotiations regarding compensation (if, of course, the coach’s current team doesn’t hang up the phone). If an agreement on compensation is reached, the team hoping to hire the coach then may discuss the subject directly with him.
As a practical matter, the pieces fall into place via conversations that never officially happened, with the team learning that the coach would like to make the move, with the coach learning what the team would pay, and with the team determining whether the coach’s current team would be receptive to a formal attempt to hire the coach, if a formal attempt were made.
It rarely happens; the most significant example came in 2002, when the Bucs hired Jon Gruden from the Raiders for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and $8 million in cash. If it were to happen again, it definitely would be regarded as outside the box.
If that’s the direction in which the Panthers go, the most obvious candidate would be Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. Although Tomlin arguably has done the best coaching of his career this season, Tepper, a multi-billionaire and former Steelers minority owner) may be willing to pay Tomlin much more than the Steelers ever would — and Tepper may be willing to replace the first-round pick the Steelers gave up for Minkah Fitzpatrick, and then some.
Remember when Tomlin’s name came up in connection with the Washington vacancy and, when asked bout it, he didn’t shout it down conclusively and completely? If nothing else, real interest in Tomlin from teams like Carolina and Washington becomes significant leverage in his dealings with the Steelers, where some minority owners reportedly wanted him out after the 2017 season and reportedly didn’t want him to get an extension through 2021, with a team option for 2022. (Tepper was among the minority owners until he bought the Panthers in 2018.)
Making an effort to hire Tomlin even more plausible (or less implausible) is the weekend report from ESPN.com that some around the league believe that Tepper will try to hire Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert and/or Steelers V.P. of football business and administration Omar Khan. Colbert’s contract runs through the 2020 draft; Khan’s contract status isn’t currently known.
However it plays out, the timeline is expected to commence with the hiring of a coach, followed by the hiring of an executive V.P. of football operations. Soon enough, we’ll learn whether Tepper will be trying to turn flip black and gold to black and blue.
He definitely has enough green to do it.