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Carolina Panthers

Ejiro Evero has a long list of influences, and ideas

Ejiro Evero

CHARLOTTE — It's not easy to pin Ejiro Evero down, to box him in, to get him to declare one particular thing as a definitive when it comes to his defense.

Partially, that's because his plan has been built around deception, showing you one thing that's actually another. Partially, it's because his defenses are a little hard to define since his influences are so varied and so vast.

Beyond his time working with former Panthers head coach Dom Capers — both as a low-level quality control assistant and then the coordinator with Capers assisting him — the 42-year-old Evero has already worked for a who's who of NFL defensive minds.

He's studied under some of the legendary NFL defensive coaches of the last generation, starting with Monte Kiffin with the Bucs, Vic Fangio with the 49ers, Capers in Green Bay, and Wade Phillips in Los Angeles. Throw in younger guys such as Brandon Staley, Raheem Morris, and Eric Mangini, and Evero has been doing graduate-level work for more than a decade, so he comes into this job prepared.

Ejiro Evero, Dom Capers

"I've been very blessed. I just think it's important that whatever your experience is, whether it's good or bad, you want to learn from it," Evero said. "And fortunately, I've learned a lot of good things from all of these guys. And, I'd like to think that my foundation, my philosophies are a combination of so many things that I've been around and been exposed to.

"I'd like to think that I was very aware of what was happening and how fortunate I was at a time for me to be in that experience. And in that situation, but yeah, I mean, all of these guys, they're big-time guys. And they're not big-time guys just because of their names. It's because when you're with them day in and day out, you see the substance behind these men, their character, their intellect. You know, I'm just so fortunate to have been around them."

The Panthers consider themselves fortunate to have landed Evero, who interviewed for all the available head-coaching jobs this offseason and had interest from other teams who wanted him as a coordinator after his season leading the Denver defense.

They'll adapt their defensive base to a 3-4 system because that's what Evero's had success with, but head coach Frank Reich made it clear it was bigger than a set of Xs and Os.

"I was hiring the man, not the scheme," Reich said. "I was hiring the man. I was hiring the leader. That's what I was hiring. It wasn't as much about the scheme. He could coach any scheme he wanted. He's going to be good at it."

But while his rise has been rapid, he's also put in his time as an understudy dutifully. It's rare for someone as young as he is to have 15 years of coaching experience in the league, but he started early.

Evero played safety at Cal-Davis when the school transitioned from Division II to I-AA. He was good enough to get a camp invite from the Raiders in 2004, but he laughed when asked for the scouting report on his own career.

"Really fast, very physical, no change of direction, no ball skills," he admitted. "The kind of player I don't want."

While he'll take the fast and physical part — those are the buzzwords every coach uses in press conferences to describe what they're looking for — Evero also demands an attention to detail and a willingness to put in the time to master it.

That seems consistent with a Division II safety who did enough to earn notice but quickly realized his football future was going to be on the sidelines rather than the field. He immediately took a job at his alma mater upon graduation, coaching there for two years as they began the process of adding a different caliber of athletes with the addition of Division I funding.

"You do learn when you're around it, you're in an environment where it's not so much about scholarships, or it's not so much about the NFL," he said of coaching at that level. "It's really about the love of the game. So just a lot more of what football means to you, as opposed to what football can do for you."

Once he got to the NFL, he saw even more evidence of approaching the job that way. With his first apprenticeship under Kiffin — who was then in his late-60s, but you couldn't tell it — he saw first-hand what enthusiasm for the job can do for you.

"It was a running joke; he was born on Leap Year, so no one knew how old he was," Evero said. "He was older at a time but still had as much energy as anybody."

Monte Kiffin, Raheem Morris

That's how you have to approach it when you start at the bottom of the ladder. Quality control coaches are the entry-level guys, almost support staff since they're there to help the position coaches and coordinators. They're sometimes an extra set of eyes and ears, and sometimes they're a supplement to the IT department.

When he got to Green Bay in 2016, the coach Capers calls "EJ" — with equal measures of affection and respect — had to input the veteran coordinator's hand-written notes and game plans into a computer, modernizing the decades of distilled strategy.

"The best coaches are the guys who started from scratch," Capers said of his former assistant, whom he now assists. "Next to the coordinator, those guys know the defense better than anybody.

"EJ was able to work with guys like Vic and Wade and so many guys, and learned to speak the languages, learned the scheme, took it all in, and then began to make it his own."

Together, but with the roles reversed, they showed what that could look like last year. The Broncos put together a strong defense, despite trading away one of their best players in midseason (pass-rusher Bradley Chubb). They still finished last season ranked seventh in the league in total defense and 14th in points allowed for a team that finished 5-12. Along with being a key part of a championship defense with the Rams the prior year, Evero has shown how to do business in a number of different ways.

He's started talking to a few of his guys already, running into a few of his defensive backs in the athletic training room, and calling defensive tackle Derrick Brown on the phone to introduce himself. And as much attention as the Panthers are getting now for staff upgrades, he's making it clear in each of his conversations with the players that the emphasis is on them.

"I always want to have the mindset that it all starts with the players," he said. "We're not just going to go out there and just do stuff because that's what I've learned. That's the past. There's got to be a purpose behind it. And the purpose is your players. What did they do?

"I always tell the guys like, this is not my defense. This is our defense. And it's the 2023 Carolina Panthers defense. We're all collaborating to build his defense. I don't want this to be about me; it's about us and us doing this thing together."

Evero has a commanding presence about him for a coach so young. Perhaps that's because of all the accumulated wisdom he's been surrounded with since he began in the business. It has drawn the attention of others, which is why he had so many interviews this offseason. He's climbing, clearly, and there's no way of knowing how long he might be here. But it appears he's still going to work like a walk-on or an intern, even though he's now one of the hottest names in the business.

"The one thing I'll say is, I don't ever want the title to define me," he said. "I don't want to change because of the job or the title that I have. I'd like to believe I'm the same person. You know, hard work is how you get anywhere. And I am fully invested in being the best defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers that I can be, and I'm looking ahead to being fully invested in where I am right now. That's what's most important.

"I'd like to believe I've always approached every job that way. Not thinking about the next job or the next promotion, thinking about doing a great job and working your butt off, and then you know, things will happen to where they're supposed to happen."

Evero was defensive coordinator in Denver in 2022 and previously had stops with the Rams (2017-2021), Packers (2016), 49ers (2011-15) and Buccaneers (2007-09).

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