CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper is making a big splash in the team's search for next year's head coach before the 2022 NFL season is even over.
Tepper has talked with Jim Harbaugh, the University of Michigan's football head coach, about coaching the Panthers next season, according to an Associated Press source.
The source told the AP that the meeting between the two was not an interview, but a conversation.
Harbaugh's season with the Michigan Wolverines ended on Saturday with a shocking College Football Playoffs loss to TCU. Harbaugh has coached the Wolverines for eight seasons, compiling a 74-25 record.
Before coaching Michigan, Harbaugh went 44-19-1 coaching the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2014. Harbaugh led the 49ers to Super Bowl 47, where they lost to the Baltimore Ravens, who were coached by Harbaugh's brother, John.
If Harbaugh does make the move to the Panthers, it would not be his first time working in Charlotte. Harbaugh spent 15 seasons as a quarterback in the NFL from 1987 to 2001. While his most notable years were with the Chicago Bears (1987-1993) and Indianapolis Colts (1994-1997), Harbaugh did spend one season with the Panthers (2001), although he saw no playing time.
Coincidentally, one of Harbaugh's coaching assistants, Biff Poggi, will be moving to Charlotte next season. Poggi is set to take the head coaching job of the Charlotte 49ers for 2023.
Carolina's head coaching search is expected to begin in a few weeks. The Panthers' season ends on Sunday after the team's road game against the New Orleans Saints.
The Panthers' season theoretically ended on New Year's Day when a 30-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers clinched the NFC South title for the latter team and eliminated Carolina from the playoffs.
Interim head coach Steve Wilks put in a valiant effort to flip the team from 1-5 when he took over to a 6-10 record that had the team fighting for the playoffs until the season's penultimate week.
When head coach Matt Rhule was fired after a demoralizing Week 6 loss, the Panthers were regarded as one of the league's worst teams, but Carolina batted an even 5-5 in Wilks' first ten games in charge.
Tepper reportedly respects Wilks' leadership traits and the Charlotte native is well-liked among influential voices in the organization.
Still, the Panthers are intending to conduct a "full coaching search" before settling on someone full-time.
As for the players, it's safe to say they've bought in and are willing to fight for Wilks, who's hoping to parlay a temporary chance with his hometown team to a full-time job with a serious chance to compete in the NFL.
"We ride behind Wilks," Shaq Thompson told Panthers.com. "He came in here, he's a true alpha, he's a true leader, and guys follow behind him. He's done amazing. Look what we've been going through."
Carolina is required to interview at least two minority candidates in person, and those can’t come until after the wild-card weekend if those coaches are employed by another NFL team.