Skip to main content

The Day After: Heading into an offseason of change


CHARLOTTE – General manager Scott Fitterer addressed the Panthers' pending head coaching search in Monday's season-ending press conference, but mostly he said he didn't want to say too much about the process.

Fitterer also said he'd be involved in the search and that the candidate pool, which includes interim coach Steve Wilks, is "not going to be a large group."

"I'm not going to get too far into that today, don't really want to comment on it, just because we need to let the process play out," Fitterer said in part of his opening statement. "There are a lot of names being thrown around; some right, some wrong, so (I'm) just not going to get into that right now."

But Fitterer shared some insight around his view of the job and how whoever ends up becoming Carolina's next head coach is stepping into a pretty good situation with building blocks in a winnable division with supportive ownership.

Fitterer started with the offensive line, which built continuity throughout the year, and nearly played the entire season healthy together before injuries to Austin Corbett and Brady Christensen in Week 18. He mentioned wide receiver DJ Moore's consistency, the development of Terrace Marshall Jr., and how Carolina's running backs established a physical identity.

He also brought up the defense, which boasts defensive end Brian Burns fresh off his second Pro Bowl selection, top cornerback Jaycee Horn coming back from wrist surgery and has veteran corner Donte Jackson locked in for the future.

Fitterer said the Panthers have had agents reach out regarding their coaching vacancy, but due to league rules, the interview part of the process is only beginning to start.

"I think this is a very, very attractive job on the outside, where people are looking at it," Fitterer said. "Hey, look, this is a young team. This division is up for grabs here in the next few years. There's no dominant quarterback. They look at our defense; they look at the offensive line, some of the pieces that we have, and the way we're growing right now.

"With a few tweaks here and there, this is a division that we can take over. That opportunity is there. It's up to us to do it. I think they see that they like the ownership situation. They know Mr. Tepper will be there to support them. So it's a very attractive job."

There's the base that exists at Bank of America Stadium, and there's also the future that comes with draft capital. The Panthers have seven picks in this year's draft, including the ninth overall selection, and Fitterer said after solidifying their core in recent years, they could look to make some splashes in 2023.

While he didn't want to "box himself in" regarding specific positions, Fitterer did mention an interest in a vertical receiver, tight end, and fast "ball hawk" defenders.

"This is the year that we go out, take some shots on more explosive (types) of athletes and players," Fitterer said. "That might be a little bit more of a sexy draft than just the nuts-and-bolts type draft. We'll see how it goes. You never know what it's going to look like. There's a lot of work to do in the draft room and free agency. But we're in a position now where we can take some of those shots."

– Fitterer addressed the quarterback situation and said he'll keep options open regarding Sam Darnold's pending free agency and the future around rookie Matt Corral, the only quarterback with a contract heading into next year. Corral, who missed his rookie season with a preseason Lisfranc injury, recently had screws taken out of his surgically-repaired foot, which Fitterer called "a good sign." 

Fitterer also said the next head coach would primarily drive decisions made at quarterback.

"Eventually, we do need a guy that we need to draft and develop," Fitterer said. "We need someone homegrown that's going to be here over a long period of time. Whether that's Matt, whether it's Sam that we keep here, who's still a young quarterback, or someone else. We're going to keep all of our options open and do what's best for this team."

– Fitterer said he had "good talks" Monday with center Bradley Bozeman and running back D'Onta Foreman, both starters heading into free agency.

Fitterer said Bozeman was "a guy that we would like back," and Bozeman told reporters he shared that sentiment. He and his wife expect their first son in a week, and the two have embedded themselves in the Charlotte community through their foundation work.

Fitterer called Foreman a "nice addition" after he broke out following the Christian McCaffrey trade. Foreman has also been vocal about his desire to stay at Carolina, where he had the most statistically productive season of his five-year career.

– Wilks addressed the media for the last time as Panthers interim head coach, wrapping up his 13-week stint.

The Panthers went 6-6 under Wilks' leadership after a 1-4 start under previous head coach Matt Rhule. They won two in a row – against Denver and at Seattle – earned their first win at Bank of America Stadium in over a calendar year with a win over Tom Brady and the Buccaneers (the Panthers were 4-1 at home under Wilks), and nearly won the NFC South.

Carolina played games with playoff implications into the new year, with postseason hopes ending with a loss at Tampa Bay on Jan. 1.

So when Wilks was asked to reflect on moments that made him proud as interim, he listed off several of them.

"There are so many," Wilks said. "I think the first one (was) us winning at home; at that time … it had been a long time since we had won at home. To be able to do that in front of our fans and try to bring excitement back at Bank of America Stadium, that was very glorifying. And to do it against a guy that many consider to be the best at that position.

"When you look at our DNA, as I talk about all the time, (the) element of finishing. For us to be able to finish that game the way we did yesterday, I thought, was very impressive. … Winning two in a row. We talked about that. Leaving here with Denver and going to Seattle, going against the hostile crowd, 12th man. There are several examples, man, where those guys in that locker room really stood up and got the job done."

Wilks adamantly kept from answering questions about himself throughout his tenure as interim coach, diverting attention back to the players. He did the same in the season's final press conference, crediting the roster's resilience and dedication to the mantra "Keep Pounding."

"We kept pounding to the end," Wilks said. "We won our last game on the road, and we won our last game at home. So that's a lot to build on, when you look at really what we've done in the past. I told those guys, particularly the core guys, 'You guys got a lot to build on going into the offseason.'"

View photos from Monday's clean-out day as Panthers players packed their things and bid farewell to their teammates for the offseason.

Related Content