The Carolina Panthers can compete for the Super Bowl next season, according to new head coach Frank Reich.
Reich spoke to the media for the first time on Tuesday since being hired last week. He told reporters that his team philosophy is very similar to the Philadelphia Eagles, a team who is set to play in Super Bowl LVII on Feb.12.
The 61-year-old head coach was the offensive coordinator for the Eagles in 2017, the year they won Super Bowl LII. He believes the Panthers can do the same.
“We want to be at the top, not just every now and then. Year in and year out. That’s what we’re striving for,” he told reporters.
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Reich replaced interim coach Steve Wilks, who took over after week five when owner David Tepper fired Matt Rhule. The team finished the season with a 7-10 record.
He takes over the job after spending four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, compiling a 40-33-1 record before being fired midway through the 2022 season.
In 2018, Reich took over a Colts team that went 4-12 the previous season. The team went 10-6 and made the playoffs in his first year.
Reich, who was the team’s first quarterback in 1995, was one of three finalists for the job, which included interim Wilks and former Cowboys and current Chargers offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
Wilks was a popular choice for the head coaching job among players and fans. Fans expressed mixed feelings about Reich’s hire on social media. Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn, doesn’t expect players to show any “push back” towards the new coach.
“All these guys, we want to win and for that to happen we have to buy into and keep moving forward,” he told reporters after the press conference.
Chinn was joined by Chuba Hubbard, D’onta Foreman, Ickey Ekwonu, Donte Jackson, Taylor Moton and Brady Christensen to show support for Reich.
Here are some key takeaways from his press conference:
Finding a franchise QB
Reich mentioned that he wants “stability at quarterback” this season. Despite slight success in Indianapolis, he went through a carousel of quarterbacks, a situation that isn’t ideal to succeed in the NFL, he said.
“We, Mr. Tepper, Scott (Fitterer), and myself, have to commit to what’s our blueprint,” he said. “How are we going to maintain stability at quarterback? Make a plan and then execute that plan.”
He chose not to reveal his preference for a veteran signal-caller versus a first-round rookie, but acknowledged that he wants a quarterback who fits the mold of the league: mobile with the ability to beat teams in the pocket.
GM Fitterer told reporters that the team will look at all options to fill their need at quarterback,but ideally want to select one in the draft.
The likely options for Carolina, who have the ninth pick in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft, should include Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson.
Last years’ third round pick Matt Corral and NFL veteran Jacob Eason are the only QBs currently under contract.
Improving the defense
Carolina’s championship aspirations start with the defense, Reich said.
“We understand we’re in a league that is offensively driven in many ways, but kind of a secret sauce is create and build upon the momentum that we have here, the players, the roster that we have here on defense,” he said.
The team’s defense ranked 19 in the league this season, according to Pro Football Reference.
His goal, Reich said, is to build on the team’s current roster to improve to a top-five defense in the league.
“A top-10 defense is gonna give you a chance in every game, but a top-five defense is what really can elevate you as a team that you can not only be in every game, but you can find a way to win every game,” he said.
He plans to bring in a coaching staff and establish a scheme that focuses on the strengths of the players.
Adapting from past experiences
Reich said it was a “blessing in disguise” to get the Panthers head coaching job, three months after he was fired by the Indianapolis Colts.
He views his second chance as an opportunity to fix his mistakes and improve on the things he did right.
Throughout his 17-year coaching career, Reich has been around a number of creative offensive minds.
Though the league has shifted towards a pass-heavy approach, he said he doesn’t plan to shy away from the run game.
In each of his three full seasons with the Colts, the team’s lead running back had over 1,000 yards and averaged at least four yards per carry.
“It’s a passing league, but you have to run the ball to be a championship team,” he said.
Reich said the team will lean on his ground attack this season, but there are plans to sign a “vertical” threat at receiver this offseason.
In 2019, Tepper expressed his desire for an experienced, offensive minded head coach. He did the opposite when he hired Rhule in 2020.
He acknowledged to reporters on Tuesday that he made the mistake of hiring a “CEO type” head coach in Matt Rhule, instead of one who specializes in one side of the field.
Fitterer acknowledged that Wilks had “a legitimate shot” at getting the full-time gig, but Reich’s interview separated him from the other two finalists.
Reich, an offensive coach, provides an advantage in playcalling, especially in key game situations, Fitterer said.