Dark horse Carolina Panthers head coach candidate is no longer a sleeper

The secret is out...

Mike Macdonald
Mike Macdonald / Todd Olszewski/GettyImages

A potential dark horse candidate to become Carolina Panthers head coach is gaining significant momentum at just the right time.

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper will already have a shortlist of potential head coaches to replace Frank Reich. Firing him so soon into his tenure provided some extra breathing space, although much will also depend on the future of general manager Scott Fitterer once the campaign concludes.

One name gaining more momentum than most in recent weeks was initially seen as a dark-horse candidate. Now, it appears as if the secret is out where Mike Macdonald is concerned.

Macdonald's reputation is flourishing right now. The Baltimore Ravens are the No. 1 AFC seed as it stands. Masterminding the downfall of the normally prolific San Francisco 49ers offense in Week 16 only saw more alluring glances in the defensive coordinator's direction.

This was a topic brought up by Jeremy Fowler of ESPN recently. The insider claimed Macdonald is expected to get plenty of interest from teams looking for a new head coach. This could also involve a potential pairing between the progressive figure and someone from the Ravens' front office to ensure they can hit the ground running.

"The biggest winners typically garner attention on the coaching and GM hiring circuit, and several figures could be poached from teams with double-digit wins so far. The Ravens will likely be a popular tree. Macdonald has done a bang-up job and will get heavy looks. Assistant coach Anthony Weaver has also done a strong job and has leadership qualities that might interest teams. It's hard to overlook what Todd Monken has done in his first year as playcaller there, too, and he has been close before, nearly landing the Green Bay job that went to Matt LaFleur five years ago. And on the personnel side, director of player personnel Joe Hortiz will be a key figure in searches; he has helped build one of the league's best rosters."

Jeremy Fowler, ESPN
Carolina Panthers
Mike Macdonald / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It's becoming apparent that Tepper is going to make a bold bid to land Ben Johnson from the Detroit Lions. He's an offensive-minded coach on the up. His experience running creative offenses and nurturing quarterbacks is something that could help take Bryce Young's game to new heights. The play-caller's reported asking price of $15 million per season is unlikely to put the billionaire off despite still paying Reich and Matt Rhule.

If Tepper is unsuccessful in his quest to secure Johnson, he cannot be left short-handed. He banked on getting him during the last cycle before eventually settling for Reich. Something that cannot happen again if the Panthers truly want to get back among the contenders.

Macdonald wouldn't be a bad consolation prize by any stretch. He's galvanized Baltimore's defensive unit since returning to the team following a brief stint in college at Michigan. He's a renowned strategist and a respected leader of men - traits the Panthers desperately need from their next head coach given how things have unfolded under Tepper's incompetent ownership.

The Panthers - or anyone else for that matter - is going to face a fight for Macdonald in this scenario. Fowler believes interview offers will flood in. He could have his pick of jobs depending on how discussions with prospective employers go in the coming weeks.

A dark horse candidate no more, it seems. Macdonald is now among the hottest names of the upcoming head-coaching cycle. If the Panthers end up targeting him, they need to pull out all the stops.

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