It seems inevitable that the Carolina Panthers will be looking for a new head coach after the 2022 season.

Matt Rhule, who was hired to replace Ron Rivera before the 2020 season, has been a massive disappointment so far during his time in Charlotte.

The Panthers went 5-11 in Rhule’s first season. That’s not a huge deal considering Rhule was coming from Baylor and had limited NFL experience. Things, however, didn’t get better in 2021. Carolina went just 5-12 last year. There was some speculation that Rhule would be fired after just two years on the job, but he managed to keep his job.

It will probably take a playoff appearance for Rhule to save his job again. And while Baker Mayfield will give the Panthers a big upgrade at quarterback (he should be the starter over Sam Darnold), I’m not sure the rest of the roster is strong enough to get this team into the playoffs. It doesn’t help that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have Tom Brady for another season. And the New Orleans Saints appear to be a much-improved team.

If Rhule is indeed fired after the season, then Carolina will have several interesting options to pursue. Some are more realistic than others. But I think the following five options could be in play for the Panthers following the 2022 season.

1. Sean Payton — Former New Orleans Saints head coach

The Dallas Cowboys will be the favorites to hire Sean Payton after this season. But if Mike McCarthy takes Dallas deep into the playoffs, the Cowboys may not have an opening. If that’s the case, then I could see the Panthers making a run at Payton.

Carolina has a billionaire owner in David Tepper. That doesn’t help the roster much due to the salary cap, but it could help lure Payton to Charlotte.

If the Panthers manage to land Payton, it would instantly change Carolina’s outlook in the NFC South. Payton only has one Super Bowl win to his credit, but he routinely puts a winning product on the field. And that type of consistency is what the Panthers badly need right now.

2. Jim Harbaugh — Michigan Wolverines head coach

Jim Harbaugh flirted with a return to the NFL earlier this offseason, but he elected to return to Michigan after he wasn’t offered the Minnesota Vikings job.

During Harbaugh’s first stint in the NFL, he led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance. He also never had a losing season (he went 8-8 in his final year).

Harbaugh appears to finally have things moving in the right direction at Michigan, but it’s clear from his interest in the Vikings job that the NFL is still on his mind.

The former Pro-Bowl quarterback has never coached east of Michigan, but he spent his final season in the NFL as a player (in 2001) with the Panthers.

3. Lane Kiffin — Ole Miss Rebels head coach

Panthers Matt Rhule
Oct 30, 2021; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Mississippi Rebels head coach Lane Kiffin talks with quarterback Matt Corral (2) during the second quarter against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

This is probably the first surprise on this list.

But I think it’s a viable option.

Kiffin has had a wild coaching career. His first head coaching job was with the Oakland Raiders in 2007. He was fired by Al Davis, but that was a bizarre situation that shouldn’t change anyone’s opinion of Kiffin.

The long-time football coach, who has been the head coach at Ole Miss for the last two years, has a ridiculous amount of experience. In addition to his job with the Raiders, Kiffin has also been the head coach of the Tennessee Vols, the USC Trojans, and the Florida Atlantic Owls. He was also Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama for three seasons.

Additionally, Kiffin is the son of Monte Kiffin, one of the most well-respected defensive minds in football history.

I think Kiffin’s heart is in the SEC, but he seems to be growing tired of the new NIL landscape (name, image, and likeness) that has taken over college football. I could see Kiffin deciding that dealing with boosters, NIL deals, recruiting, transfers, etc just isn’t worth it. If he goes to the NFL, he wouldn’t have to worry about any of that stuff. It would just be about football. And with the Panthers, he’d be reunited with Matt Corral, who was his quarterback at Ole Miss.

This would be a little bit of an outside-the-box hire, but I think it could pay off in a big way. Kiffin’s offensive savviness is as good as it gets.

Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer, by the way, spent nearly two decades in the Seattle Seahawks front office. That means he knows Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll quite well. And Carroll is one of Kiffin’s main mentors. Maybe that connection could lead Carolina to Kiffin.

4. Luke Getsy — Chicago Bears offensive coordinator

If Justin Fields has a good season for the Chicago Bears, then I think Getsy will quickly earn a head coaching job.

Getsy previously served as the Green Bay Packers’ quarterbacks coach before landing with Chicago this offseason. He comes from the Matt LaFleur coaching tree (which is linked to the Sean McVay coaching tree), which is one big reason why I think Getsy will be an in-demand head coach option this winter. I could easily see him making a LaFleur-like jump after the 2022 season (LaFleur was the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator for one year before landing with Green Bay).

This is a name that’s a bit under the radar right now, but I think you’ll be hearing a lot more about Getsy as the season progresses.

5. Dan Quinn — Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator

Panthers head coach Matt Rhule
Sep 27, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn before the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

Quinn was a hot head coaching commodity this offseason, but he decided to run it back with the Cowboys instead of taking a new job.

It seems highly likely that Quinn, who coached the Atlanta Falcons from 2015-2020 (and led the team to a Super Bowl appearance), will be a head coach again in 2023. It’s just a matter of where.

Fitterer, the Panthers’ general manager, worked in Seattle’s front office when Quinn was with the Seahawks for two different stints. Carolina assistant general manager Dan Morgan was also in the Seattle front office during that time. That connection might be worth keeping an eye on if Rhule is fired after the 2022 season.

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