CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With Monday's news that Matt Rhule had been fired by the Carolina Panthers, speculation immediately began about who might replace him as the team's next head coach.
One of the biggest names that's been linked to the job is former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton. At least one oddsmaker pinned Payton as the favorite to be the Panthers' coach in 2023.
Payton led the Saints for 15 years before stepping away at the end of 2021 to work with Fox Sports. During his tenure, Payton led the Saints to seven NFC South championships, including a victory in Super Bowl 44 in 2009. He's technically under contract with the Saints, so hiring him isn't as simple as making an offer. Payton said he's open to a return for the "right situation," and if you're Panthers owner David Tepper, it makes sense that you'd want to at least ask him.
Tepper named longtime assistant Steve Wilks the interim, and said he wants to see how the team responds to him over the next 12 games. During a news conference Monday, Tepper said it's too soon to talk about candidates for the opening. For what it's worth, Payton said Monday that he'd at least consider it, even without a franchise quarterback on the roster.
"Look, I think it's attractive," Payton told Colin Cowherd on "The Herd." "It's almost a unicorn, the open job with a great quarterback, waiting for you to come in and be the foster parent."
When asked where it went wrong for Matt Rhule, Payton said the transition from college to the NFL is more than just roster management and dealing with professional players instead of college athletes.
"The jump sometimes from a successful college head coach to an NFL head coach is larger than you think," he said. "Schematically, red zone, third down ... and I say that respectfully because in college it's a different job. You've got a certain amount of hours per week, you have spring ball, you're recruiting, a lot of things that are happening."
Payton continued, saying Carolina will need a quarterback to compete, but that's pretty standard for any job opening. Whether it's through the draft or free agency, every team without a franchise quarterback is looking for one.
"Usually, generally speaking, it's somewhat broken," Payton explained. "Often, better quarterbacks are doing to dysfunction. The first pick in the draft, second pick, third pick. There are four teams in each division, generally, there's one on top and the other three are trying to knock them off and if they don't, they're out."
Payton rarely, if ever, had to sweat the quarterback position with Drew Brees giving the Saints more than a decade of excellent play. That's what the next coach has to find if Carolina wants to, as Tepper put it, "get over the hump."
"Immediately, whoever's next at Carolina, is looking at that," Payton said. "Is it in the draft? Do we have a 'hold down the fort' guy in free agency until we find it in the draft, or is there a guy we like in free agency that we feel can be a good player?"
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