Path to oblivion: How did the Carolina Panthers get here, and what comes next?

The misery never ends...
David Tepper
David Tepper / David Jensen/GettyImages
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Carolina Panthers didn't ride the hot hand

Also occurring in the 2022 season following Matt Rhule’s dismissal, the Carolina Panthers traded away the best running back in the NFL, Christian McCaffrey. It’s a polarizing topic to debate, whether it was warranted/smart/beneficial - but so much of it is hindsight and situational.

In my honest opinion. I understood the move then, I understand it still today. I also am bummed out that it happened. Congratulations on finally getting to play winning football in San Francisco, CMC.

It signaled with utmost clarity, this team was rebuilding once again. However, something unexpected began to unfold.

Interim head coach Steve Wilks connected with the team and established a clear identity as a power-running offense that fought like hell. The Panthers went 6-6 down the stretch, finishing the year at 7-10 and narrowly missing the postseason.

Wilks had one opportunity as head coach prior in the NFL, coming by way of the 2018 Arizona Cardinals. That team finished with a league-worst 3-13 record, and he was terminated.

Context matters, at least to me, so I’d like to simply say that the Cardinals organization was about as tumultuous as this current Panthers rendition, for what it’s worth. This also included enough inappropriateness and discrimination for Wilks to join Brian Flores’ suit against the league for improper hiring practices and racial discrimination.

Wilks had the support of Carolina's locker room, as well as a lot of support from the fanbase to remove the interim tag and hire him as the full-time head coach. David Tepper and Scott Fitterer vowed to be thorough and intentional in their search - the one that would bring winning football back to Carolina. They were also joined by Nicole Tepper after she sorted out that whole little ‘failing to complete the inclusive hiring training required’ situation.

My personal favorite out of the reported candidates who interviewed for the head coaching vacancy was Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. Unfortunately, he decided to stay put instead of keeping his name in the equation.

From the Lions team site and reporter Tim Twentyman, Johnson was quoted as saying the following during his reasoning for remaining:

"So many good people, coaches, players, I love the offensive staff and everyone we have on board there. I love the players. I love coming into work every day. Coach Campbell is incredible, and so end of the day talking with my family it just made sense. Don't ruin a good thing."

Lions OC Ben Johnson

It’s the last part, for me - ‘don’t ruin a good thing’.

Most of that likely just means what he said - Johnson was genuinely enjoying his work in Detroit. But also, he simply didn’t see the opportunity to be one of only 32 NFL head coaches as a better thing, if it was to be done here with this Panthers organization.