The Carolina Panthers could win the NFC South with Steve Wilks as their interim head coach, but team owner David Tepper is keeping an eye on several names to take over on a permanent basis after this season.
Per ESPN's Dan Graziano, Tepper wants to hire someone with previous head-coaching experience and has a list of candidates that includes Sean Payton, Leslie Frazier, Marvin Lewis, Frank Reich and Dan Quinn.
Payton will probably be the top coaching candidate for every team with a vacancy this offseason. His situation is complicated by the fact that he retired from the New Orleans Saints, who still own his coaching rights through the 2023 season.
Any team that wants to hire Payton may end up needing to give the Saints compensation in a trade.
Even if the Panthers wanted to bring in Payton, the odds of New Orleans letting him go to a division rival would seem low barring some obscene trade offer.
Jon Gruden was traded from the Oakland Raiders to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 for a package that included two first-round draft picks, two second-round selections and $8 million.
It seems unlikely any team would make that kind of offer for a coach nowadays, but you never know what a desperate owner might do.
There's also the question of where Payton might want to coach if he returns next season. He is working as an NFL analyst for Fox and can stay in that role if there isn't a job opening he wants to take.
Quinn and Frazier are having outstanding seasons in their current roles. Quinn is in his second campaign with the Dallas Cowboys as defensive coordinator. The team ranks in the top 10 in yards allowed per game (310.9), passing yards allowed per game (182.4) and points allowed per game (17.6).
Frazier has been defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the Buffalo Bills since 2020. Their defense ranked first in points allowed in 2021 and currently ranks second in points allowed (17.0) this season.
Reich's tenure with the Indianapolis Colts ended poorly, but he led the team to three winning seasons and two playoff appearances in his first four campaigns. The 61-year-old was also the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles team that won the Super Bowl in 2017.
Wilks has done a terrific job with the Panthers since taking over after Matt Rhule was fired in October. The team is 4-4 in eight games with Wilks after a 1-4 start to the season.
Sunday was the Panthers' best win of the campaign, as they pulled out a 30-24 victory on the road against a Seattle Seahawks team that is fighting for a playoff spot.
Despite trailing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by one game, the Panthers control their destiny in the NFC South race. They already have a 21-3 victory over the Bucs, and the two teams play again in Tampa in Week 17.