CHARLOTTE — OK, so those two boxes are checked off.
So many more boxes, and they haven't even started to unpack.
With new Panthers head coach Dave Canales and President of Football Operations/General Manager Dan Morgan now settling into their new roles, there's going to be a lot to discuss. And frankly, it feels like a month ago when Morgan was promoted, and that was all the way back on Monday.
At the moment, he's still working out of his old assistant GM office across the hall because there's so much to do that moving is an extravagance he doesn't have the time for. Canales is still working on the logistics of moving a family with four kids from Florida to North Carolina, so he'll be here next week.
What the Panthers have already done this offseason is a lot, and there's so much more to come. But the important thing is they have a direction and the beginnings of a philosophy. We don't know exactly what it's going to look like, but there are a few things we know.
Canales is smart and high-energy in the Pete Carroll way, befitting his Seahawks roots. And Morgan is focused, intense, and meticulous, the way he was as a player here. And as they work together with some shared context (they worked for the Seahawks for eight seasons), there's a reasonable guess that they'll speak the same language.
That certainly helps, after a season spent wondering how so many parts were going to fit together (answer: not well).
These two are now linked and will help chart the course of the next iteration of Panthers football. No one knows how it will go, but they're at least going in the same direction.
I hear all of the moaning and groaning and settling for second-place comments. Some of it is deserved and should be expected. Both of these men have stellar reputations and a ton of good experience. They need to be judged on what they accomplish; give it some time. There is no way to say who made all of the decisions going back, but we know who will be going forward. There are a lot of decisions on which players to keep and which free agents to go after. Following that, this will be a crucial draft for the Panthers.
They have a history of working together, and our GM has a good knowledge of the inner workings. I, for one, am tired of where we have been but am looking forward to a new day. It will not happen in one season, but the direction can be detected. I look forward to your take going forward; you just catch way more than the rest of us and share it with us. Thank you! — Stephen, Columbia, SC
When you go through a pair of simultaneous searches and leave it with Canales and Morgan, there will be people who are underwhelmed. But they're appropriately whelming.
There were bigger names in both columns this year. But winning January news cycles with big, flashy names doesn't guarantee success, as we've seen many times in many places, including this one.
This process reminds me a bit of 2002 when the Panthers hired former Giants defensive coordinator John Fox to be the head coach and paired him with Marty Hurney as GM.
Fox was a hotter candidate the year before when the Giants went to the Super Bowl on the back of a suffocating defense, but he was coming off a 7-9 season in which the Giants ranked 14th in total defense and 16th in points allowed in January 2002. And Hurney, despite being a former sports writer, was not a headline-grabber. He became a cap guy while learning the business from Hall of Fame GM Bobby Beathard, so there were a lot of questions about his qualifications as a personnel man.
All those two did was put together the most consistent eight years in franchise history, going 71-57 from 2002-2009, with three double-digit win seasons and the team's first Super Bowl run. They might not have had back-to-back winning seasons, but they never won fewer than seven (consistently competitive), and going 7-9 in 2004 after Steve Smith broke his ankle in the opener and was lost for the year was likely the difference in three straight 10-plus win years. Their time ended on a sour note, and that 2-14 record in 2010 and Fox's departure were largely tied to the pre-lockout economic strategy of the previous owner.
That's a long way of saying, we don't know in January how this is going to work out next January. The key is finding good people who are good fits and good at their jobs. Every indication is that these two are. So we'll find out together. They're in the process of getting to know each other again and getting their people together, so the work continues.
Is it Can-uh-less, Can-Al-less, Kahn-Al-lus or Can-Al-leez? — Zach, Charlotte
See, I'm not even going to tell Zach to GET BACK TO CLASS yet because this is an important question.
As such, I committed a journalism, reached out to people in Seattle who worked with him for years and have been reliably informed that the preferred pronunciation is CANAL-iss.
As in Erie, Ear, Suez, Root, or that Street in New Orleans everybody staggers down to get back from the French Quarter.
See, we learned something here today. I feel better already. Thus, I'm now empowered to say GET BACK TO CLASS, ZACH.
Why are they interviewing coaches before they pick a GM? As you said, alignment is very important, and they seem to be doing things backward again. — Luke, Birmingham, AL
(In fairness to Luke, his question came in before either was hired.)
But here's a news flash. They were interviewing coaches and GMs simultaneously. This isn't a one-or-the-other thing, and the league rules on coaching interviews dictated that there were some windows where they could interview one and not the other.
And hiring Morgan first isn't a suggestion that he picked Canales alone. The way this is structured, both report to the owner. This setup is not unique or even uncommon. Many teams around the league do it this way. This is normal.
But when things have gone the way things have gone around here lately, people take any opportunity to yell that whatever happens next is wrong. I get it, conditioned response, etc. But this process was built with alignment in mind because that's the most important part of putting together a football operation.
And in Canales and Morgan, or Morgan and Canales, however you want to say it, they've found a promising start toward that goal.
(Side note: I'm tempted to start calling these two Dan and Dave and photoshopping them into USA uniforms, but I don't need Reebok's 1992 lawyers breathing down my neck this week. Shoutout to the Olympics nerds who got this week's ATOG Dated Pop Culture Reference Of The Week [trademark pending].)
In an unprecedented move, the NFL has changed the way they decide the draft order for this year, and all the GMs will fight to the death for the top overall pick. Brand new Panthers GM Dan Morgan has to be one of, if not the favorite, no? — Jonny, Chapel Hill, NC
Twisted. I dig it. The NBA Draft lottery is so sissy. Thunderdome may be the way to decide this equitably. I can probably even get my old friend Alex Marvez to help call the action.
See, this is the kind of Mailbag question you need in January, so I'm making Jonny this week's Friend Of The Mailbag and getting the appropriate honorarium on the way to him soon. [Attention FsOTM who got emails from me recently. I'm working on it; it's been a little busy around here, if you haven't noticed.]
The more I think about it, this may also be why they didn't hire Mike Vrabel as coach because that would have pretty much been the NFL version of the Road Warriors, ready to dominate the cage match at the combine. That just wouldn't have been fair to the rest of the league. Alone, Dan's still on his way to Ultimate Warrior status (especially with the hair he had in the 2000s). Check out this picture of him getting into a helmetless fight with teammate Matt Willig, who was gigantic, in 2004.
But yes, Morgan is definitely among the early favorites if the GMs around the league did go toe-to-toe. San Francisco's John Lynch is a scrapper, for sure. Chicago's Ryan Poles was a Boston College offensive lineman who made it to training camp with the Bears in 2008 and still has some size. Tennessee's Ran Carthon was an NFL running back. Bills GM Brandon Beane might have a chance if they had a Light Heavyweight division, the kind where they wear sequined masks. Brandon will have Old Man Strength if he ever gets old.
Sadly, we don't get to consider former Patriots boss Bill Belichick because that dude clearly has OMS, and that's a hidden factor in a hypothetical like this. He'd fight dirty, but only because it works.
But I'm going out on a limb here and say if they all decided to throw down, Morgan is the odds-on favorite. When this becomes a thing, the league knows where to find me to send the royalty checks.
Rah, Rah Rah, A new GM in place. I remember reading articles from you about Frank Reich and how wonderful he was going to be. How did that turn out? I know you have to put a positive spin on things, and now we have a new flavor of Kool Aid to drink, with another new flavor coming soon when the new head coach is hired.
From here on in, I'm not going to get pumped up over anything. SHOW me results, and I just may look for some of that Kool Aid. — Scott, Hampstead, NC
I feel really guilty about this, as the only person in the football world who thought Frank Reich and the all-star coaching staff and the No. 1 pick was going to work. It was lonely out there in those streets, and you had to be brave to go out at night. It was practically an EXCLUSIVE because the world told me it was never going to work, and I simply would not listen.
Wait, what? Oh yeah, everyone thought it was a good idea? That changes everything.
The reality of covering football for a living is that everything's cyclical. Somebody wins, somebody loses. New people come in, and the customers want to know if there's a reason to be encouraged about the different direction, or not. Mostly, they just want to be treated fairly and with honesty.
That's why I keep saying I'm not in the hope business.
I'm not going to start planning parades down Tryon Street in advance over these two hires. No one knows how any of this is going to work out, and there's sufficient evidence to suggest it might take a minute. But people who don't live in this city generally have high opinions of Morgan (who also interviewed for the Steelers GM job last year, and they're generally considered to be credible), and Canales is a riser in the business with a record of results with quarterbacks, who brings energy to a place that needs it.
As we said up top, is it a home run pair of hires? Maybe not. But we all thought last year was destined to be a success, and as you can tell by a pair of searches coming to a close this week, it obviously wasn't. Nobody knows anything.
If you're looking for reasons to think this could work, there are some. (Canales's former Seahawks QB Geno Smith thinks so; read more here.) If you're looking to yell at a cloud, you'll definitely find one. The way things have gone lately, the reflexive yelling is baked into the process. And Scott's right; until the results change, that will continue.
But talking to people in the league and outside this building, the perception is that these are solid hires at a time when solid is a solid start.
So we'll see.
HOORAY! Finally, the Panthers owner makes a really smart move in promoting Dan Morgan to the GM position! I can't wait to see him in action now as the total rebuild of our team begins. GO DAN!
So, Darin, with so many holes to plug and so much faith to rebuild, outside of hiring a new HC, where do you think he will begin? It won't happen overnight, so the Panthers Nation must be patient and give him a chance to build a quality team. My guess would be to get a playoff-quality offensive line AND to bring in playoff-quality wide receivers. Also, I would really focus on Chuba Hubbard as RB1 and bring in a top-flight young, developing RB.
Here is my real question: what becomes of Andy Dalton? He has never been given any chance, which I think was a huge mistake given the season we had. Young could have probably learned a lot by watching Dalton in a real-game scenario. My hat is off to Andy for playing his role without complaint! Here's to a new 2024! — Jim, Timberlake, NC
See, not everybody thinks everything is a disaster.
There are varying opinions on the extent of the rebuild. As we've mentioned, there are many good pieces on defense. Depending on the style Canales wants to play, there are offensive linemen here who (when healthy) could play for many teams. And Bryce Young's obviously talented but he was in a ridiculous situation last year that makes it impossible to know the chickens from the eggs. But they definitely need to upgrade his targets, to start.
As to the quarterback question, Andy knew what he was signing up for when he got here, over a month before Young did to a two-year deal.
Young got through the year intact and showed he could take a hit (too many, but still). You get better at playing by playing, so I never thought they needed to sit him. It's a POV; not everybody shares it.
Hi Darin! Following up on the last Mailbag question (about the next HC scheme and not trying to fit square pegs in round holes): I guess Dan Morgan has the awareness to know that the fan base is and will be second-guessing every hire, including his - kind of thing to be expected after a string of losing seasons. But if, and that's a big if for us to believe they can for now, Morgan and the ownership can turn that into an advantage by making an inspiring hire (more on the next sentence) and hitting on draft picks and FA signings, the team can compete really soon again.
So about the inspiring hire: besides the needed plan to better use the players on the roster, we all can acknowledge that some HC candidates will prefer other jobs available, but that was also the case for the Lions three years ago, and they did find someone who really wanted to coach there and with the players that had (and picked on the next drafts). Do they have the self-awareness to know what the fan base thinks of some decisions previously made and expect in the future? Any encouraging sign is welcome. Thanks! — Fernando, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Hashtag selfawareness is one of my very favorite things in life. And you know the only thing that's better than the self-awareness of fan perceptions?
The actual awareness that some things needed to change. I think you'll see that.
Morgan is, above all things, an accurate reader of the situation. It's what made him a great linebacker and a good personnel man.
And with the way things have gone in recent years, everyone is aware that the benefit of the doubt has been given away. As pointed out by Scott the Kool-Aid Man above, only winning will change that. And there's not a game to win until September, so we'll see.
And on that note, let's go lightning round, brought to you by the patron saint of the lightning round Jeff from Fuquay-Varina, to close it out this week.
What do you think of how Baker Mayfield is playing this year and in the playoffs? Think he might have been like all our other quarterbacks, he just didn't have a good enough supporting cast? — James, Millers Creek, NC
He was touched by the magical power of Dave Canales, worker of miracles, obviously.
Being able to chuck YOLO balls up at Mike Evans might have helped a little, too.
First, I'm pleased with the hire of Dan Morgan. Do you think there is any chance that Luke Kuechly will join the Panthers? I could see him as a special assistant to Morgan. They are both tough, strong-minded people who had that extra gear that great players have. They didn't tolerate losing well. — Bob, Aurora, CO
I may start answering these with a simple LLLLLLUUUUUUUUUUUUKKKKKKEEEE, except people will wonder what AJ Klein did to get into the Mailbag.
Luke is gainfully employed as an analyst on the Panthers Radio Network. And he appears to be kind of liking life as Luke Kuechly, civilian. But I will never wager that he never works for the team again because gambling's illegal at Bushwood, and I never slice.
Why don't the Panthers attempt to hire Bill Belichick? We are always hiring people that are awful like Dave Gettleman. Why not go after great players and coaches like our division rivals do (Tampa - Brady), (Atlanta - Belichick)? — Lee, Hesperia, CA
I did not have Dave Gettleman catching strays on this week's bingo card. Then again, I didn't sit down planning to write about Marty Hurney, either.
Belichick's one of the greatest coaches to ever coach, regardless of sport. Him and Jurgen Klopp. He also turns 72 before the draft, and Atlanta hired Raheem Morris instead. I'm old enough to remember when George Seifert was a good idea since he had the highest winning percentage in league history and two Super Bowl titles at the time of his hiring.
We want Greg Olsen as the new Head Coach. How do we get this message to Mr. Tepper? He knows offenses and was a second coach in the huddle. He knows O-Line. He is a positive motivator. He has watched all the teams in the last two years. He is intelligent and can more than handle the PR side of the job. He is one of us and will die for us just like he did every time he suited up. — James, Gastonia, NC
I figured this was JJ Jansen using his burner account to have a little fun with us on behalf of his fellow baseball coach, up until the "one of us" reference.
That'll cover us for this week. Stay tuned to Panthers.com for all the latest news and moves as we prepare to meet the new coach and GM next week.