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LIST: Candidates to become next Panthers offensive coordinator

Matt Rhule is safe for a third season but hiring a strong offensive coordinator will be crucial to helping him keep his job as Panthers head coach.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — All signs point to Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule returning for a third season in 2022, but he enters next year with a notable vacancy on his coaching staff: Offensive coordinator. 

Rhule fired Joe Brady in the middle of the season and getting this hire right could go a long way toward turning the Panthers around (along with a new offensive line and quarterback). 

On Sunday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that former NFL head coaches Bill O'Brien and Jay Gruden, as well as Rams coordinator Kevin O'Connell, were being targeted by Carolina.

Here are some other possible candidates to be the Panthers' next offensive coordinator, including some familiar names for fans. 

Jeff Nixon, Panthers interim OC

The prevailing theory is that Rhule would have to make a hire from outside the building. Plugging Nixon in after firing Joe Brady never gave Carolina’s offense any sort of spark, but he hasn’t had the benefit of an offseason to install his own offense or include a healthy Christian McCaffrey and (hopefully) improved offensive line and quarterback.

The other question is, with Rhule entering a likely lame-duck season, which up-and-coming OC would want to hitch himself to that ride?

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Pep Hamilton, Texans QB coach

The Charlotte native should definitely be in line for a job as an offensive coordinator, if not a head coach, in 2022. His latest work includes turning Davis Mills, the Texans' third-round pick, into a respectable quarterback during his rookie season. 

Prior to that, Hamilton helped develop Justin Herbert to Rookie of the Year in 2020. He also guided Andrew Luck through some of his best seasons as offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts from 2013-15. He also called plays in the XFL and was Stanford's offensive coordinator (again with Luck) from 2011-12. He was reunited with Jim Harbaugh as the passing game coordinator at Michigan from 2017-18. 

Mike Kafka, Chiefs QB coach/Passing game coordinator

The former Northwestern star has coached quarterbacks for the Chiefs since Patrick Mahomes’ first season as a starter. For the last two years, he’s helped coordinate Kansas City’s passing attack, which finished No. 1 in 2020 and is a Top 3 passing game in 2021. Kafka would be the natural choice to replace current offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy in Kansas City if he finally gets a head coaching gig.

Credit: AP
Ken Dorsey served as the Panthers' QB coach for several seasons, including Cam Newton's MVP year in 2015.

Ken Dorsey, Bills QB coach/Passing game coordinator

Would Dorsey make the round trip back to Charlotte from Buffalo? The former Panthers quarterbacks coach from 2013-17 had a successful first season as the Bills' passing game coordinator but Josh Allen has had an up-and-down season this year. 

Shane Day, Chargers QB coach/Passing game coordinator

Day has helped Justin Herbert build upon his Rookie of the Year campaign with an even better 2021 season. In 2019, Day was Jimmy Garoppolo’s quarterback coach and helped the 49ers signal-caller to earn NFL Comeback Player of the Year in a season that ended with a Super Bowl berth. 

It was by far Garoppolo's best season in the NFL. Day is well-rounded, having coached tight ends and offensive line for Miami and Washington, respectively. 

Wes Phillips, Rams Tight ends coach/Passing game coordinator

He works for Sean McVay – isn’t that an automatic hire? 

In Phillips’ first season as Rams passing game coordinator, the LA ranks fifth in passing yards and second in touchdowns. Receiver Cooper Kupp has put together an MVP-caliber season under Phillips' watch. 

He's the son of former NFL coach Wade Phillips, who might not have been the best head coach, but was a tremendous defensive coordinator. Like with many successful offensive teams, Phillips could be elevated to offensive coordinator if current coordinator Kevin O'Connell lands a head coaching job. 

Dan Pitcher, Bengals QB coach

Pitcher has some similarities to Joe Brady in that he's young (he's only 34) and has built a lot of his resume by working with Joe Burrow. But unlike Brady, Pitcher has a solid NFL background. He's now in his 10th season in the league and he's earned some credit for Burrow's continued progress as one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks. 

He could also be in line for an in-house promotion if offensive coordinator Brian Callahan gets a head coaching job. 

Luke Getsy, Packers QB coach/passing game coordinator

Green Bay offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is getting major interest as a head coach so that could keep Getsy in Green Bay with a promotion. It's easy to give Getsy a little too much credit, too, when he has Aaron Rodgers and Davante Aadams. 

But still, he's played a role in their success and has worked under Matt LaFleur, who is a solid offensive mind and well-respected across the NFL. 

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James Urban, Ravens QB coach

Urban has been Lamar Jackson's quarterback coach since 2019. He helped guide the former Heisman Trophy winner to NFL MVP. He also has experience with Super Bowl-winning coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia. 

Duce Staley, Lions Assistant head coach/RB coach

Staley, who played college football at South Carolina and spent a decade in the NFL as a running back, has put together a nice resume as an NFL assistant. He worked for Andy Reid, Chip Kelly and Doug Pederson in Philadelphia. 

He's been the right-hand man for several coaches and was interviewed for the Eagles' head coaching job in 2016. He's due to get a shot as a coordinator and could mesh well with Matt Rhule's focus on the running game, with a hopefully healthy Christian McCaffrey. 

Darrell Bevell, Jaguars offensive coordinator/interim head coach

Bevell will almost certainly be looking for a job once the season is over after serving as the Jaguars' head coach after Urban Meyer's dismissal. If you based his future on what transpired this year, Bevell certainly wouldn't land an offensive coordinator position based on the results in Jacksonville. 

The Jags were one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL and Trevor Lawrence's rookie season has been less than promising. But there shouldn't have been very high expectations in year one anyway, especially given the dysfunction under Meyer that's since come to light. 

Bevell has experience in Detroit where he and Matt Stafford put together a pair of Top 10 passing seasons. He also served the same role with the Vikings from 2006-10, but the majority of his career has been spent with the Seahawks. 

He was Seattle's offensive coordinator from 2011-17, where Russell Wilson won 65 games and posted a 98.8 passer rating with 161 touchdowns during that span. He's also familiar with Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer, who came from Seattle. 

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Matt Nagy, Bears head coach

Nagy didn't work out as Chicago's head coach but he earned that job for his work as Kansas City's offensive coordinator. He took over play-calling duties from Andy Reid in 2017 and helped the Chiefs post 28.6 points per game over their final five games to make the playoffs. 

He was on staff when Alex Smith had his best season as an NFL passer. 

Credit: AP
New Orleans Saints wide receivers coach Ronald Curry, right, works with wide receivers Michael Thomas (13), Lil' Jordan Humphrey (84) and Rishard Matthews (12) during training camp at their NFL football training facility in Metairie, La., Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Ronald Curry, Saints QB coach

This would be fun. Curry was a star quarterback at UNC in the early 2000s and he also played basketball for the Tar Heels. He's now in his 16th season as an NFL coach and sixth with the Saints, serving under Sean Payton. 

In fact, the Saints' website touts Curry as "one of the top young offensive minds" on the staff. This past season was his first as QB coach for the team, and he had a lot to deal with in the wake of Drew Brees' retirement, including a season-ending injury to Jameis Winston and a QB-by-committee approach with Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian and Ian Book. 

Prior to 2021, Curry worked with the Saints wide receivers. Curry has plenty of local ties besides his playing days at UNC, too. He was the head coach and athletic director at Mooresville Christian Academy from 2010-12 and his daughter, Carter, was born in Mooresville. 

Contact Nick Carboni at ncarboni@wcnc.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter

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