Current, former Patriots assistants reportedly ‘in the mix’ for Panthers head coach opening
October 11th, 2022
It took just five weeks for the first NFL coach firing this season. That distinction ended up going to Matt Rhule, now formerly of the Carolina Panthers.
In Rhule’s place the Panthers promoted 53-year-old Steve Wilks to interim head coach. Wilks had just joined the team prior to this season as the defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach (it’s his second stint with the Patriots, after coaching on the defensive side of the ball from 2012-2017). Prior to joining the Panthers Wilks has one year of NFL head coaching experience under his belt, with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018.
Once the season ends though, the Panthers are expected to conduct a thorough search for a permanent head coach moving forwards. On Monday, Jeff Howe of The Athletic shared a list of likely candidates he gathered “after speaking to several executives around the NFL.” That list includes one current and one former Patriots assistant.
Howe has the candidates separated into three categories – the short list, in the mix, and wait and see. One coach with experience with the Patriots appears in each of the first two of those categories.
Included among the ‘short list’ coaches is Brian Flores, who held a variety of roles with the Patriots from 2008-2018. Towards the end of his tenure, Flores was also the de facto defensive coordinator. He left the Patriots in 2019 to take the head coaching job in Miami, before being let go in a questionable move at the end of last season. Currently, he’s a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach for the Steelers.
“Flores has earned a reputation as a good defensive coach, and he was very highly respected with the Patriots,” Howe writes. “He did a good job in three seasons at the helm of the Dolphins, leading them to back-to-back winning seasons — a major step forward for a Miami organization that couldn’t get out of its own way for most of the previous two decades. It’s possible his lawsuit against the Dolphins could impact his candidacy, though Flores still interviewed for Houston’s head coach vacancy during the last cycle before landing with the Steelers.”
Jun 9, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach Brian Flores (left) and offensive coordinator Matt Canada (right) participate in minicamp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
In the ‘in the mix’ category, Howe includes current Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo. After playing for the Patriots from 2008-2015, Mayo returned as a linebackers coach in 2019 and has been on the staff in that role ever since, while also handling some of the defensive coordinator-like responsibilities.
This isn’t the first time Mayo has been speculated as a head coaching candidate. Over the last two season he’s been linked to openings with the Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos, and Las Vegas Raiders.
“It’s been a long-time coming for Mayo, who is one of the smartest to ever play for Bill Belichick, and it’s shown in his three-plus seasons as an assistant coach,” Howe notes. “Mayo is an outstanding leader, and he’s reportedly blown away the interview process in a couple of hiring cycles. Teams have been understandably tepid over his lack of coaching experience, but Mayo continues to prove himself. He is an instrumental voice for a Patriots defense that is overachieving in the middle of a rebuild.”
Aug 29, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo watches the action during the second half against the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
There’s still plenty of time before the Panthers will even begin the initial round of interviews for their head coach opening, and their search won’t just be limited to these two candidates. Other names mentioned by Howe include Wilks, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, 49ers defensive coordinator and long-time NFL linebacker DeMeco Ryans, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, and former Saints head coach Sean Payton.
Still, seeing Mayo’s name already mentioned in this context is a sign of how highly he is thought of around the league, and how serious his candidacy is for this and other openings that will come up between now and the end of the season. If the Patriots’ defensive continues to perform like it did on Sunday – shutting out the league’s top scoring offense – his stock should only continue to rise.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.