Writer's note: No official statement has been made about Ron Rivera's job status in Carolina. As of the time of this post, he is currently the Panthers head coach. Also, it should be noted that while the writer feels Rivera will remain at his position, this slideshow is a hypothetical presentation of the likely candidates to take over as head coach of the Carolina Panthers.
The Carolina Panthers started out this year as dark-horse playoff contenders with possible speculation they would win their division. However, they came out the chute and landed on their collective faces starting out at 1-6. Their record and their failure to close out the close games started a lot of grumbling about whether or not Ron Rivera was competent enough to lead the franchise.
Suddenly, Carolina started playing with a purpose and closed out their remaining schedule with a 6-3 record en route to a 7-9 finish, placing the Panthers one game ahead of last year's mark. The strong finish may have done enough to keep Rivera's job secure, but the Panthers still need to hire a general manager, and there is a possibility he may want to hire his own coach.
Potential choices like Bill Cowher, Brian Billick and Jon Gruden are not included on this list because none of them have been in serious talks with teams about filling vacancies, and if the Carolina Panthers were to put together a list of candidates, the ones out of the league would be a great place to start. For the intents and purposes of this list, only actively current coaches and assistants are featured.
Assuming the Panthers' front office wants to make a change, there are a lot of names out there who would be ideal coaching candidates to take over the reins and become the Carolina Panthers' fifth head coach. Here are the top five to consider presented in no particular order.
Current Job: Oregon Ducks Head Coach
NFL Experience: None
The Oregon Ducks have seen a great deal of success under the guidance of Chip Kelly. The team has been active in the BCS title picture during his tenure as head coach and has helped turn the Ducks into a Pac-12 juggernaut. In an era that has seen success stories with elite college coaches turning around pro teams, Kelly may be next on the list to join the likes of Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll.
Kelly has been linked to other teams outside of Carolina and may be a long shot to be hired as the Panthers' next head coach. Additionally, he may command a big contract and for Jerry Richardson to spend that kind of money, he would want reassurance that Kelly leads the Panthers to the playoffs immediately after assuming coaching duties.
While many speculate about his future in the NFL, there is a good possibility Kelly remains in Oregon to pursue the elusive national title that has just been slightly out of reach since he became the Ducks head coach in 2009.
Current Job: Indianapolis Colts Offensive Coordinator
NFL Experience: 14 seasons
Arians left his mark by leading the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs a year after they held the top pick in the draft. What is even more remarkable is he did so in the absence of head coach Chuck Pagano who was battling leukemia during the season.
The Colts have a young team and, like the Panthers, offer a plethora of young talent on both sides of the ball. Arians did well finishing the year with a 9-3 record and despite coming up short, challenged the Houston Texans for the division crown until they were eliminated a couple of weeks ago.
This would be an interesting choice for Carolina because Arians is an offensive minded coach, and he could find success with the Panthers offense much like he did with the Colts this past season. It's still uncertain what Arians chooses to do, but he will not be able to be interviewed until the Colts have been eliminated from the postseason. The way Andrew Luck and his teammates are playing right now, that may not be anytime soon.
Current Job: Denver Broncos Defensive Coordinator
NFL Experience: 13 seasons
Del Rio is the most familiar name on this list as he was the Panthers' defensive coordinator during the 2002 campaign before becoming head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has had a decent amount of success despite coaching numerous underachieving Jaguars teams and compiled a career record of 68-71. He made two postseason appearances with the Jags going as far as an AFC divisional game before falling to the New England Patriots in 2007.
He is not the flashiest name on this list, but his scheme and familiarity with the organization could serve him well in turning the Carolina Panthers into a contender for the next several years. As of now, there has been no mention about him being on any team's radar, but even if he were, they would have to wait awhile since the Denver Broncos are in the playoffs.
Along with his familiarity with the team and his experience as a coach in the league, it is not out of the question for the Panthers to entertain the idea of considering him on their short list of job candidates.
Current Job: New York Giants Defensive Coordinator
NFL Experience: 13 seasons
Carolina's owner Jerry Richardson has a great relationship with the New York Giants organization. He considers owner John Mara a close friend and even hired John Fox away from the G-men to coach the Panthers in 2002. The end result saw Fox becoming the team's most successful head coach and a Super Bowl appearance.
With that in mind, Richardson could look to duplicate that success with Perry Fewell. Fewell has been linked to many job openings and has one year of experience as a head coach with the Buffalo Bills. He brings a defensive mindset to the game and with the crop of defensive talent offered by Carolina, he could turn the unit into one of most elite defenses in the NFL.
However, the one thing that both Fewell and Del Rio have going against them is the possibility of the Panthers organization shying away from defensive-minded coaches in favor of those with an offensive background.
Fewell could get the job done but the need to properly coach the players on the offensive side of the ball may be seen as a necessity to become the Panthers' next head coach.
Current Job: San Diego Chargers Head Coach
NFL Experience: 25 seasons
Turner likely finished his tenure as the Chargers head coach Sunday with a mark of 54-40. He has shown the ability to coach teams in the regular season but has a reputation for coming up short in the playoffs. Turner is an offensive-minded coach and put together a good Chargers unit that featured Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Vincent Jackson, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates during his tenure with the Bolts.
In six seasons with the Chargers, Turner guided them to the playoffs three times. He made it to the AFC Championship Game only once, and the Chargers were defeated by the New England Patriots. Turner has experience coaching in the NFC; he was the Washington Redskins head coach from 1994-2000. During that stretch he made only one appearance in the playoffs and usually saw his teams underachieve.
What makes this choice interesting is how it would continue the trend of former San Diego players or staff making the exodus across the country to Carolina. Ron Rivera, Rob Chudzinski and Mike Tolbert are just a few examples of personnel with ties to the San Diego organization.
The offensive setup in Carolina would appeal to Turner because of the talent he would have at his disposal, not only with a young, talented quarterback in Cam Newton but with the depth at running back, which would be the envy of any team.
Turner may be hired as an offensive coordinator somewhere as there are some teams looking to interview him in an attempt to revive their stagnant offense. Carolina would not only allow him to control the offense but take control of the entire game.