CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers brought everyone together again Thursday — former and current players, caterers, media members — to introduce a new coach 366 days after introducing their last one.
They missed Groundhog Day by a day. But like the Bill Murray movie, the Panthers keep reliving the same experiences.
This was different than last year’s press conference for Frank Reich, which started with a highlight video that included clips from Reich’s short-lived run as the starting quarterback from the Panthers’ inaugural team.
The Panthers didn’t show any videos. And instead of a single lectern, there were two chairs at the front of the room — one for new head coach Dave Canales and another for Dan Morgan, the recently promoted general manager.
There was a bit of a buzz in the third-level, club lounge at Bank of America Stadium. The 42-year-old Canales channeled Pete Carroll energy, owing to the 14 years he spent with the longtime Seattle Seahawks coach, who stayed in constant motion on the sideline and practice field into his 70s.
Hear Panthers general manager Dan Morgan and head coach Dave Canales speak to the media. https://t.co/QhlTJvoW6p
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) February 1, 2024
Morgan maintained a tone befitting a former linebacker who set a tackles record in the Panthers’ first Super Bowl appearance. Morgan said he wants opponents to fear the Panthers’ logo as they did during that 2003 season. Putting aside for a moment an offensive lineman or a playmaking receiver, Morgan said the Panthers’ roster first could use more dogs.
“We need guys that are hungry to go out there and inflict pain on their opponents. We need guys with toughness, physicality, those types of things just to put it plainly,” Morgan said. “We haven’t had enough of that. That’s gonna be our DNA to where when people drive up to Bank of America Stadium, they know they’re in for a dogfight.”
Panthers guard Austin Corbett said he can tell Canales’ energy isn’t fake, which the veteran said is easy to detect. Canales was authentic Thursday whether he was talking about Lizzy, his wife of 20 years, or Bryce Young, whom he just met.
But it’s possible to be impressed with Canales’ views on Young and Morgan’s take on toughness, and also be somewhat skeptical of David Tepper’s latest changing of the guard. The Panthers owner hired an outside consulting firm to help conduct a thorough search and landed on an in-house candidate for GM (hired off a 2-15 season) and that guy’s former colleague as coach.
In a hiring cycle with eight coaching vacancies and five GM openings, Canales and Morgan’s only interviews were with the Panthers. It may well work. But given his hiring history and the Panthers’ record (31-68) in his six years as owner, Tepper doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt.
“Who wouldn’t be skeptical?” asked Muhsin Muhammad, who joined the Panthers’ Hall of Honor last fall.
“This city, this organization, the players who’ve been here for a long time — old guys like Shaq Thompson — I think the natural reaction is to be skeptical, and you’re wrong if you’re not. These players have seen turnover. The city has seen turnover. There’s an element of let’s wait and see,” Muhammad added.
“But the way you win is what Dave (Canales) said: You go out and you win every single day. You come with that energy every day. You’ve gotta love being there every day.”
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Like Carroll, Canales won’t lack passion or want-to. Canales’ energy and success with resurrecting quarterbacks convinced the Panthers to move on him 90 minutes after interviewing Mike Vrabel, who along with Bill Belichick were among the proven coaches available.
But the Panthers were likely leery of a retread after Reich’s 11-game cameo and weren’t as sold on Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson as some thought. It wasn’t a money thing with Johnson; they just preferred Canales.
Morgan and Canales were together seven years in Seattle, where Morgan started as a pro scout and Canales was a quarterbacks and receivers coach but was passed over twice for offensive coordinator.
“We were about two doors apart in the hallway. It was kind of a crazy, loud hallway for us. What I remember about Dan in those times was just his conviction, his belief,” Canales said. “Right off the bat, as a former player he comes in and he could just see it. He could just tell what a good football player was.”
Former Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer, another member of that Seahawks’ front office, brought Morgan to Charlotte in 2021 as his assistant GM. The two were friends, neighbors and co-workers. Morgan mentioned Fitterer in his opening remarks but wasn’t asked how his personnel approach would differ from Fitterer’s.
It doesn’t figure to be a quick rebuild. The Panthers’ defense was way ahead of the offense in 2023, and keeping defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and his staff would be a big boost for Canales. The two were scheduled to meet on Thursday, according to a league source.
“This is for me a huge piece of what we’re doing,” Canales said.
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But the biggest piece is Young, which is funny to say about a 5-foot-10 quarterback. Canales said there are ways to give Young clearer passing lanes without his offensive linemen blocking his vision (think rollouts and bootlegs). And while the Buccaneers weren’t going to get Young picking 19th last year, Canales liked what he saw while breaking down Young’s film after Canales arrived in Tampa.
Canales had the same feelings as he watched film from Young’s rough rookie season while preparing for his interview.
“I just got more and more fired up about the opportunity to have this amazing talent,” Canales said. “And he’s the guy. He’s the right guy that we all talk about when we have that quarterback, that face-of-the-franchise type of player.”
The Panthers have a new front office structure modeled after San Francisco’s, which in theory could insulate Tepper from football decisions. Asked if he was doing interviews Thursday, Tepper said wryly, “No, I’m in the background now.”
In addition to Canales and Morgan, the Panthers hired Brandt Tilis, the Kansas City Chiefs’ salary cap and contracts executive, in a similar role. The setup has worked well for the 49ers and L.A. Rams, so give Tepper credit for taking a different tack.
Hopefully, there won’t be another introductory press conference a year from now.
(Top photo: David Jensen / Getty Images)