CHARLOTTE - Those charged with finding the Panthers' next head coach said Tuesday that they're not opposed to going off the beaten path in their search, but the path taken by the majority of successful NFL coaches these days is fairly clear-cut.
"The last time we did this, we went the assistant coach route, and I think it worked well. We went from 1-15 to the Super Bowl in two years," general manager Marty Hurney said. "I don't think you limit yourself, but I do think everybody pulls off their past experiences."
Owner Jerry Richardson, while not tipping his hand about any specific candidates that the Panthers might pursue, said he was fairly certain that the majority of head coaches getting ready to compete in the NFL playoffs had previously been NFL assistant coaches.
In fact, all 12 playoff head coaches were NFL assistants at some point in their coaching careers. All but two - Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks - were acting NFL assistants without experience as NFL head coaches when they were hired by their current teams.
Two of the three coaches in Panthers history were hired away from NFL assistant jobs for their first head coaching job in the league: Dom Capers, named the first coach in team history on the heels of a stint as Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator; and most recent coach John Fox, hired away from his role as New York Giants defensive coordinator. In between, the Panthers hired former San Francisco 49ers head coach George Seifert.
"The last time we went through this, we went through the assistants' ranks, and we got somebody that fit our organization," Hurney said, stressing the need for a good fit. "I think that's very important, to get somebody that fits the philosophies of this organization and how we do things as well as the qualities you look for in a head coach – to manage his coaches, to motivate players, to discipline players.
"I've learned a lot over my 22 years in the league about what it takes to be a successful head coach in this league. I think we have a good feel of what those qualities are and what we're looking for as the Carolina Panthers."
Hurney and Panthers President Danny Morrison are integral parts of the team searching for Carolina's next head coach, and obviously Richardson will play a role. He, too, wants a coach that fits with the organization, as opposed to a coach that the Panthers try to make fit.
"I would hope that we will have a head coach that's compatible to the organization," Richardson said. "The first three times we hired a head coach, we talked about what the head coach wanted. We were not specific enough about what we wanted. This time I think we'll be more specific."
The new coach will inherit one of the youngest rosters in the NFL. Most of the current players, however, got invaluable experience this past season, and Richardson doesn't sound like he wants to wait to win.
"Most coaches that I have known will say, 'We're going to stay the course, do what we keep doing,'" Richardson said. "I would expect that they're going to put forth a little bit more effort to not have five consecutive losses or six or seven or whatever it may be. That will be different this time around."
The Panthers do, however, plan to be patient and prudent when it comes to the hiring process.
"It's a fluid process. You have to keep an open mind, and you have to keep your options open as you go through it," said Hurney, adding that the team won't divulge details about the search during the process. "Danny and I will be as thorough as we can be, and Mr. Richardson will be involved with the decision.
"We'll just go through the process. There won't be any timetable to it, but I think it will be done expeditiously."