Why the Carolina Panthers should be wary of Josh McDaniels

New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

At some point in the near future, the Carolina Panthers will interview Josh McDaniels as a potential head-coaching candidate.

As he has been for the past several offseasons, current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will be a hot commodity during the early portion of the 2020 offseason. Multiple teams, including the Carolina Panthers, have requested to interview the long-time New England assistant, and some sources believe McDaniels could be the favorite for the job in Carolina.

Across 11 seasons (2006-2008, 2012-2019) as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, the team has never finished worse than eighth in scoring offense. During those same 11 seasons, New England has finished outside the top 10 in passing offense just twice. Despite all the success and attention McDaniels is receiving, his past also has some red flags that should make the Panthers cautious regarding a potential hire.

McDaniels does have past head-coaching experience; however, it didn’t go well the first time around.

Following his first stint with the Patriots, McDaniels was hired as head coach of the Denver Broncos prior to the 2009 campaign. He won eight games in his first season, and finished just one game out of a playoff spot. In 2010, though, McDaniels’ Broncos started the year 3-9, leading to his firing after Week 13. A huge factor in the rapid decline was the team’s defense. Denver’s defense was the seventh-best in 2009, and a year later in 2010, it plummeted to dead last.

Josh McDaniels with the Denver Broncos
Josh McDaniels with the Denver Broncos (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) /

Obviously, McDaniels’ 11-17 record as a head coach is a bit concerning; however, his struggles within the team should make the Panthers cautious as well. Carolina’s defense was very shaky in 2019 to say the least, and that was with a unit filled with talent. In his two years in Denver, McDaniels’ defense was in a similar situation. The 2010 defense featured Hall of Famers Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins, as well as All-Pro defensive lineman Jamal Williams, and was run by Don Martindale, who has transformed the Ravens’ defense into one of the elite units in the NFL over the past two seasons. I say all that to say this: in his first attempt as a head coach, McDaniels failed to maintain a winning defense, even with Hall of Fame talent–the exact same thing the Panthers did in 2019.

It’s also worth noting that despite his success with Tom Brady, McDaniels has often been unsuccessful with other starting quarterbacks he has worked with. Among them are Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, and Matt Cassel. In his defense, none of the three were franchise players, and Cassel did have a career year in McDaniels’ offense in 2008. Aside from that one season, though, McDaniels has done little to inspire much confidence that he can win without an elite quarterback. Orton and Cassel were somewhat similar to what the Panthers have in Kyle Allen and Will Grier, and Tebow’s skill-set was similar to that of Cam Newton–one McDaniels completely whiffed on with the former Broncos first-round pick. Carolina will have an opportunity to draft a top prospect at the position in April’s draft if they choose to do so, but going back to the Tebow example, McDaniels failed to draft and develop franchise quarterbacks in the past.

Prior to the 2018 season, McDaniels had a deal in place to join the Indianapolis Colts as head coach before backing out.

Perhaps the biggest question mark the Panthers should have in regards to McDaniels is his level of commitment. Following Super Bowl LII, he interviewed with several teams before eventually reaching a verbal agreement with the Colts to become the franchise’s next head coach. After news had broke that he had agreed to take the job in Indianapolis, he backed out of the agreement just hours later, citing that it was in his best interest to remain with the Patriots. That alone, along with other factors, suggests that McDaniels is perhaps Bill Belichick’s heir-apparent in New England.

With that being said, it could be very difficult to lure him away from the Patriots. His actions no doubt were an embarrassment to the Colts organization, and are something Carolina would obviously like to avoid. Belichick’s future beyond the next couple years remains in question, and if McDaniels opted to turn down Andrew Luck in his prime–albeit injured–it seems unlikely he’d be willing to take on a similarly plagued Newton. Add in his past struggles as head coach and the uncertainty of his word, McDaniels appears a much less enticing candidate to lead the Panthers going forward.

Matt Rhule and Eric Bieniemy are two other leading candidates the Panthers have already requested to interview.

Except for maybe McDaniels, current Baylor head coach Matt Rhule is perhaps the hottest coaching candidate on the market. Rhule has spent the past three seasons at Baylor, revamping a humiliated program, and nearly leading them to the College Football Playoff in 2019. Prior to his time with the Bears, Rhule similarly turned around a brutal program at Temple. His rapid success at each of the two respective schools has been key in his candidacy, although it remains to be seen whether or not he is willing to leave Baylor.

Baylor head coach Matt Rhule
Baylor University head coach Matt Rhule (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) /

Carolina has also requested to meet with Eric Bieniemy to consider filling its head-coaching vacancy. Bieniemy has spent the past two years serving as the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator under Andy Reid, and his success with Patrick Mahomes has helped him garner serious head-coaching opportunities over the past two offseasons. He is scheduled to meet with Carolina on Thursday. Former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has also interviewed with the Panthers, although he doesn’t currently appear to be a leading candidate.