Is Ben Johnson’s Carolina Panthers interview the most important of all?

Could the upcoming interview between Ben Johnson and the Carolina Panthers be the most important during their head coaching search?

One couldn’t accuse the Carolina Panthers of being anything but thorough during their search for a new head coach. Steve Wilks remains in contention for the job after going 6-6 on an interim basis. Still, team owner David Tepper is making no secret of his intent to examine bright offensive minds throughout the process.

The Panthers are also interviewing potential coordinators to get a head start before a new appointment is confirmed. This appears a little strange considering any coach would want to choose his staff, although candidates could have provided a list of options before or after their interviews.

Of course, the Sean Payton news dominates the recent headlines. The New Orleans Saints granted permission to speak with the Super Bowl winner on Sunday and the high-profile candidate is set to meet Tepper and other leading front-office figures later this week.

Carolina Panthers will hear Ben Johnson’s plans this week

Another eye-catching interview is happening before that. According to multiple reports, the Panthers will bring in Ben Johnson for an in-person interview on Wednesday, which could tip the scales further in the Detroit Lions offensive coordinator’s favor when push comes to shove.

Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports declared that Johnson is rumored to be in the lead, according to sources. This notion gained further steam when Joe Person of The Athletic stated that many around the league believe Tepper to be enamored with the coordinator’s credentials.

“The buzz in league circles is that Tepper is enamored with Johnson, whose innovative schemes helped the Lions finish fifth in the NFL in scoring offense and total offense in his first season as offensive coordinator. Johnson’s a sharp guy — with degrees from UNC in math and computer science — so you’d have to think he’s going to nail his interview this week.”

Johnson has just one year of legitimate NFL play-calling experience, which was nothing short of outstanding and dragged Detroit from among the statistical bottom-feeders to the summit in double-quick time. But he’s been in various pro-jobs for a decade and should know what makes the Panthers tick hailing from the region.

One gets the sense this could be the most important interview of all. If Johnson shines, then that could be enough for Carolina to move forward and start putting his plans into motion.

Should Tepper or anyone else have reservations about Johnson – for whatever reason – then it might tempt Carolina further in Payton’s direction. Even though it could cost them a significant amount of draft capital given the Saints’ close proximity within the NFC South.

This is a decision Tepper cannot afford to get wrong. There is a real opportunity for Carolina to take charge of a suspect division if the right recruits come on board this offseason, which all starts with the man at the helm and might also include a franchise quarterback for good measure.

Johnson has the momentum and ticks all the boxes of what Tepper reportedly wants in his next head coach. But he’ll have to leave absolutely no doubt when visiting Bank of America Stadium this week.