With the Patriots one of the NFL’s worst teams at 2-9, and Bill Belichick’s tenure likely ending after this season, one nonstop topic of late has been predicting Belichick’s future and where he could coach in 2024.
The two teams most widely discussed, and the two favorites on the board with sportsbooks, are the Commanders and Chargers. New Commanders owner Josh Harris is expected to fire Ron Rivera after this season, and Chargers owner Dean Spanos may relieve coach Brandon Staley as soon as next week if his team loses to the Patriots Sunday and falls to 4-8.
But there is another team that joined the conversation Monday and needs to be taken seriously. The Panthers are on the prowl after firing coach Frank Reich, and Belichick makes sense for all kinds of reasons.
This isn’t just my opinion; this is based on conversations with league sources who know the coaching market and know Belichick. Keep a close eye on Belichick and Carolina.
Belichick, despite turning 72 next April, clearly wants to keep coaching. Carolina would be a good spot to finish out his career and break Don Shula’s record (Belichick is 16 wins from tying the overall record of 347, and 28 from the regular-season record of 328).
Carolina is a quiet market with a small media scene that Belichick could easily handle. He’d be far away from the Patriots in the NFC South, and wouldn’t have to face them until 2025. His arrival would likely be welcomed by Panthers fans, who are tired of watching losing teams led by nameless, faceless coaches. The organization could be a blank canvas, with general manager Scott Fitterer also likely to be fired after the season. Carolina is a short flight to Belichick’s homes in Nantucket and Florida.
And he would work for the NFL’s third-richest owner in David Tepper, a $20 billion hedge fund manager who could pay Belichick handsomely and easily cut a check to make any upgrades to the organization that Belichick deems necessary. Despite Tepper’s record of impatience with the Panthers, he’d be easier to work for than the notoriously penny-pinching Spanos, or the green and inexperienced Harris.
The Panthers football operation certainly isn’t perfect. They are 1-10 this year and 30-63 since Tepper bought the team in 2018, for a .323 win percentage that is worse than every team’s but the Jets. Belichick would be saddled with a quarterback in Bryce Young who may not be any good. The roster needs a major infusion of talent, and the Panthers don’t have a first-round pick in 2024 after trading it for Young. And Tepper has been an impatient owner, hiring and firing two coaches already in his six-year tenure.
But those are just speed bumps from Belichick’s perspective. Most important is that the Panthers have an owner with deep pockets who badly wants to win, and a football operation that is going to be wide open for rebuilding. While we don’t know the full coaching landscape yet for 2024, Carolina is going to be one of the best opportunities Belichick could find.
The bigger question is whether Tepper wants to commit to an aging coach who is coming off a poor stretch in New England. The sense I get is that it is very much on the table.
Tepper did say at a press conference Tuesday, “Quite frankly, if I had my druthers, I’d like to have a coach here for 20 years, or 30 years, if I can do that.” Obviously, that’s not what you’re going to get from Belichick at 72.
Then again, every NFL owner says what Tepper did about wanting a long-term solution. And it’s more hyperbole than anything; the stability Robert Kraft created with Belichick for 24 years is nearly impossible to replicate.
What Tepper means is that he wants to get off the coaching carousel. Since taking over in 2018, he has fired Rivera, hired and fired Matt Rhule after 2½ seasons, and now hired and fired Reich after just 11 games. Tepper wants to find a coach to stabilize his program and get his team in playoff contention every year.
If Tepper wants a young offensive coach to turn around Young’s career, he can choose from Detroit’s Ben Johnson, Washington’s Eric Bieniemy, Philadelphia’s Brian Johnson, Houston’s Bobby Slowik, or his own offensive coordinator, Thomas Brown.
If Tepper wants an experienced offensive coach, then Jim Caldwell makes a lot of sense. Caldwell, 68, is a quarterbacks coach by trade, has taken two teams to the playoffs as head coach (Colts and Lions), has coached in a Super Bowl with Indianapolis, and is currently on the Panthers staff as a special adviser.
Another experienced offensive coach would be Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, though his quirky personality may disqualify him from working with the notoriously hot-headed Tepper.
There also are quality defensive-minded candidates, such as Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, the Ravens’ Mike Macdonald, the Cowboys’ Dan Quinn, and the Vikings’ Brian Flores.
But none of those candidates brings to the table what Belichick does: Credibility. “Wow” factor. Six Lombardi Trophies.
Belichick is the only coaching candidate who will make the world stop. Whose hiring will get air time on CNN and Fox News and the BBC. Whose addition will make the Panthers the No. 1 offseason story in the NFL. Whose race for Shula’s record will keep the Panthers relevant.
That stuff matters to billionaire owners — particularly Tepper, who is tired of losing and tired of his Panthers being an NFL also-ran.
Belichick also is probably the only candidate who could stand up to Tepper. Some of the top candidates may avoid the Panthers because of Tepper’s impatience with Rhule and Reich. But if Tepper takes a swing for Belichick, he isn’t going to be impatient. He’ll give him time.
There will be other head coaching opportunities available this offseason that will make sense for Belichick. Atlanta will be a strong possibility if the Falcons move on from Arthur Smith. Belichick surely is keeping an eye on Sean McDermott’s job status and would likely jump at the chance to coach Josh Allen and the Bills. Belichick has great relationships with the owners of the Giants and Bengals if those jobs were to somehow come open.
The Chargers and Commanders do make sense on some level.
But keep an eye on Carolina. The Panthers are on the prowl for a big-time coach, and no name is bigger than Belichick’s.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.