Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule prioritizing NFL experience in search for new offensive coordinator

Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule is looking to add more NFL experience to his coaching staff this offseason, beginning with the offensive coordinator position. Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In 2019, the New York Jets were interested in hiring then-Baylor coach Matt Rhule under the condition he choose his coaching staff from a list of candidates they provided. They weren’t good with his proposed list of coordinators and assistants who had very little NFL experience.

Rhule withdrew from consideration.

“I’m never going to be in an arranged marriage,’’ Rhule told ESPN 1660 in Dallas at the time. “I’m never going to sub-contract out jobs for offense and defense. I’m always going to hire people I believe in ... and are going to do things our way, that are going to believe in process, that are going to be part of a program.’’

Fast-forward to 2020. Rhule, with only one year of NFL experience (assistant offensive line coach for New York Giants in 2012), was hired by the Carolina Panthers. He brought with him eight coaches from Baylor and a complete staff with a total of 84 combined years of NFL experience.

To put that into perspective, when the Los Angeles Rams hired Sean McVay in 2017 as the youngest (30) head coach in the modern NFL era, he brought in – just on offense -- a staff with 84 combined years of experience, plus his eight years in the league as an assistant and offensive coordinator with Washington.

In 2007, when Mike Tomlin was hired as the Pittsburgh Steelers' coach at the age of 34, he had an experienced offensive coordinator in Bruce Arians (14 years) and defensive coordinator in Dick LeBeau (34 years).

Even a veteran coach like Arians (now 27 years in the NFL) has an offensive staff with 109 years of experience, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers attempt to defend their Super Bowl title.

So, yes, experience appears to matter -- and Rhule now seems to understand that as he’s searching for an experienced offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, defensive line coach and special teams coordinator.

Rhule initially hired an offensive coordinator in Joe Brady who had only two years of experience in the league (offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints) and none as a play-caller, and he hired seven assistants who had no NFL coaching experience.

Two seasons and a combined 10-23 record later, Rhule finds himself searching for experience in key positions, particularly offensive coordinator.

His future beyond 2022 may depend on it. Fox’s Jay Glazer reported after the season that Carolina owner David Tepper still could make a coaching change if Rhule doesn’t hire a “rock star’’ offensive coordinator.

Rhule said he’s never been told by Tepper to fire or hire anybody, but he admits finding an experienced offensive coordinator is vital. He also is looking outside of his college coaching tree.

“The one thing I do want, I’d like to find someone who has experience, having done it,’’ Rhule said after the season. “It’s one thing to make suggestions. It’s another thing to make the call.

“One thing about these jobs, whether it’s being the starting quarterback, being the OC, being a DC, being a head coach, is every year you learn from the good things you did and the bad things you did.’’

With that, let’s take a look at the experience of the coaches who have been reported as Rhule’s candidates for offensive coordinator:

Bill O’Brien (age 52): Currently the offensive coordinator at Alabama, but prior to that, he was the head coach of the Houston Texans (2014-2020), and prior to that, the OC/QB coach with the New England Patriots (2011). He has 12 years of NFL experience.

Mike Groh (50): Currently the wide receivers coach for the Indianapolis Colts. He spent two years as the offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles (2018-19) but wasn’t the play-caller. Has 10 years of NFL experience.

Jay Gruden (54): Has been unemployed since being fired as the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator (along with the rest of the staff) after the 2020 season. He also was an offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals (2011-13) for three years (the Bengals made the playoffs each season) and the head coach at Washington (2014-19) for six. He has 17 years of NFL experience.

Klint Kubiak (34): Was the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings the past two seasons but got mixed reviews on his play-calling this past season. He has nine years of NFL experience.

Pep Hamilton (47): The Charlotte native was the passing-game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Houston this past season. He has 13 years of NFL experience. His only experience as an OC came at Stanford (2011-12), where he developed former No. 1 pick Andrew Luck. He also helped develop Justin Herbert with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020 and third-round pick Davis Mills in Houston this past season.

Scottie Montgomery (43): He spent this past season as the running backs coach at Indianapolis but has only four years of NFL experience. He was an offensive coordinator at Maryland and Duke and the head coach at East Carolina (2016-18). He actually entered the NFL with the Panthers in 2000 as an undrafted rookie and is from Burns, North Carolina.

Ben McAdoo (44): Currently is a consultant for the Dallas Cowboys. He was the head coach of the New York Giants (2016-17) for two years after spending the two previous seasons as their offensive coordinator under Tom Coughlin, who is one of Rhule’s mentors. The offense improved from 28th in 2014 to 13th in 2014, his first season as OC. It jumped to sixth in 2015. He has 16 years of NFL experience. Rhule's and McAdoo's ties to the Giants and Coughlin make McAdoo an intriguing candidate.

Kevin O’Connell (36): He’s still involved in the playoffs as the OC for the Los Angeles Rams, where he’s been since 2020 after one season as the OC at Washington. He didn't call the plays at Washington, and he doesn’t call the plays for the Rams (McVay does), but he works closely with the quarterbacks and has seven years of NFL experience.

Luke Getsy (37): Has been the Green Bay Packers' passing-game coordinator/quarterbacks coach the past two seasons. He has seven years of NFL experience, all with the Packers. He left the NFL in 2018 to become the offensive coordinator at Mississippi State for one season before returning to Green Bay.

Tim Kelly (35): Was the Texans offensive coordinator the past three seasons. Has been with Houston since 2014, so he has eight years of NFL experience. He also has worked with quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was of interest to the Panthers last year.