Coaching Carousel Spins Wildly in Carolina

Austin PennyAnalyst IJanuary 23, 2009

This off-season has already been a roller coaster for the Carolina Panthers—and the Super Bowl hasn’t even been played yet. 

It has been less than two weeks since the Panthers’ monumental collapse at Bank of America stadium that sealed their exit from the playoffs.  In that time frame, Carolina has discovered that their number one priority in free agency, Julius Peppers, doesn’t have any interest in coming back to the team, and have lost five coaches from John Fox’s staff to other jobs.

With the coaching carousel making an extended stay in Charlotte this week, let’s take a look at just what exactly the Panthers are going to be saying goodbye to.

Mike McCoy – McCoy was a part of the Panthers coaching staff for nine seasons, working as offensive assistant, passing game coordinator, and most recently, quarterbacks coach.  McCoy has accepted the position of offensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos and their new head coach Josh McDaniels.  The Panthers have hired Rip Scherer to replace McCoy.  Scherer has been the quarterbacks coach for the Cleveland Browns for the last four years, and has worked previously with Panthers offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson.

Sal Sunseri – Julius Peppers’ position coach for the last seven seasons.  As defensive ends coach, Sunseri helped develop Charles Johnson into the effective pass rusher he is today.  Sunseri departs from Carolina to take a position with the University of Alabama under head coach Nick Saban.

Ken Flajole– Flajole has been the linebackers coach for the Panthers for the last six seasons.  His linebacking corps continues to be one of the most solid parts of the Carolina defense.  Flajole has taken the defensive coordinator position in St. Louis under their new head coach, Steve Spagnulo.

Tim Lewis – Lewis was the defensive backs coach for the Panthers and has accepted a similar job with the Seattle Seahawks.

In addition to losing these four coaches, the Panthers have now also parted ways with Mike Trgovac, the team’s defensive coordinator.  This comes as a surprise to many inside the organization, as talks between general manager Marty Hurney and Trgovac regarding a contract extension were believed to be near finalization.  Trgovac spent the week with the Panthers staff in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl practices and planned on signing the contract extension when he returned home before experiencing an apparent change of heart.

Trgovac has experienced a wide range of acceptance during his six seasons in Carolina.  He seemed to be praised as the right choice to replace Jack Del Rio in 2002 when he accepted the head coaching job in Jacksonville, and was reveled in the three seasons in which the Panthers were ranked in the top 10 in total defense. 

However, when things went wrong on the defensive side of the ball, Trgovac was often blamed heavily, although Fox still has an adequate amount of control over the defensive play calling. 

Trgovac was an intense coach and had a great run as the defensive coordinator in Carolina, but all good things must come to an end.  Many of Trgovac’s fans deserted him towards the end of the 2008 season when the Panthers allowed 30+ points in five out of their last seven games, including the 33-13 smackdown the Arizona Cardinals layed on Carolina en route to their first ever Super Bowl appearance.  It seems as though that loss may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

However, it is interesting that the two sides seemed so close to agreeing to an extension when Trgovac decided to leave.  Usually, if a coach is headed out, he will not join his fellow coaches at post season events, with the first major one being the Senior Bowl practices in Mobile.  It’s as if Trgovac woke up in the middle of the night while on the trip and had changed his mind.

It’s been rumored that Trgovac will join the Seattle Seahawks coaching staff as defensive coordinator.  That would unite him with former NFC South rival Jim Mora, who was head coach of the Falcons during the Mike Vick glory days.

So, where does this leave the Panthers?  That’s a tough question to answer.  For most Panthers fans, the change at defensive coordinator comes as a bit of good news.  The next step, though, is to determine who will fill the position.  Fox is expected to hire someone to replace Trgovac before he fills any of the other remaining coaching vacancies on defense.

So far, it has been rumored that Jim Haslett is the front runner to take the job.  Haslett is also in Mobile this week exploring potential job opportunities.  It is believed that Haslett would have interest in the Panthers’ job if they expressed interest in him filling it. 

Haslett was most recently the interim head coach for the beleaguered St. Louis Rams, who finished 2-14 in 2008; 2-10 under Haslett.  Haslett has been defensive coordinator in the past for the New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, and St. Louis Rams.

Haslett is most notable for his time spent as the Saints’ head coach.  In the 2000 season, Haslett’s first as head coach, he took a 3-13 Saints team from 1999 and coached them to a 10-6 record, an NFC West title, and the team’s first ever playoff victory—earning himself Coach of the Year accolades.

Haslett was fired in New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina uprooted the Saints and the team struggled to a 3-13 record.

Another rumor has been that Herm Edwards, if canned in Kansas City, would be a top candidate for the defensive coordinator position.  Edwards played college ball with Fox at San Diego State and the two have remained close since.

Regardless of who fills the position, it is obvious that they have a tough road ahead of them.  Replacing Julius Peppers, if he does indeed leave, will be the number one concern, and shoring up a porous secondary should surely follow closely behind.