After a 1-10 start to the season, the Carolina Panthers have fired head coach Frank Reich. He is the second head coach fired in the middle of the 2023 season, joining former Raiders coach Josh McDaniels. This was only Reich’s first season with the Panthers, so ownership is looking to move on quickly here.
This news is relevant to the Detroit Lions because the Panthers were reportedly very interested in hiring Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson to fill their vacancy this offseason. And according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, they may be looking to take another run at him for this upcoming coaching search.
“The #Panthers targeted #Lions OC Ben Johnson a year ago before he opted to stay in Detroit. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they made another run at him, among others,” Pelissero tweeted on Monday.
Johnson wasn’t just a candidate for the Panthers last year, many considered him a favorite. According to a CBS report, he had “the lead in Carolina” for that job.
However, a few days later—after reportedly getting a significant raise—Johnson opted to return to Detroit for another season.
“It’s really simple for me, it starts with this place and these people,” Johnson said. “(I’ve) been here four years now, and I believe in Sheila (Hamp) and what she’s doing, Rod Wood, Dan (Campbell), Brad (Holmes). It starts at the top and I think it’s trickled down. This is as encouraged I’ve been in my four years with the direction of the Lions and where we’re headed.”
That may provide some insight into why Johnson turned down the Panthers job originally, and why he may do it again. Panthers owner David Tepper has not exactly been viewed as a patient and understanding owner. Carolina has now fired three coaches since Tepper bought the team in 2019, and there are some rumors that he forced the team’s hand in drafting quarterback Bryce Young, who has struggled compared to rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud.
It would also be a tough situation for Johnson to walk into. Not only will he have to try and turn around Young’s career, but with the aggressive move to trade up for him, the Panthers enter 2024 without a first-round draft pick.
That said, it is close to home for Johnson, and if the Panthers were enamored with him last year, they will undoubtedly try to sweeten the pot for him this year.