Panthers could look to college ranks

December, 10, 2010
12/10/10
12:34
PM ET
I am not saying this will happen, but I am saying it could.

It’s purely hypothetical at this point, but I’m going to say I wouldn’t be totally surprised if the Carolina Panthers bring in a coach from the college ranks to replace John Fox, who will be out the door the moment the season is over.

[+] EnlargeJim Harbaugh
Kyle Terada/US PresswireWill Carolina target Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh to replace John Fox?
I’ve been saying all along I thought the Panthers would go with a rising NFL coordinator or assistant and I’ve thrown out names like Russ Grimm, Mike McCoy and Brian Schottenheimer as examples. I still think that is the most-likely scenario.

As I said in this recent post, I believe general manager Marty Hurney and team president Danny Morrison will spearhead the search. Owner Jerry Richardson will be involved and have ultimate say, but he’s pretty busy working on the league’s labor situation.

The reason I’m amending my theory, and at least leaving open the possibility of a college coach, is Morrison. Yeah, he runs the business side and Hurney runs the football side, but Morrison holds a great deal of power and comes from a college background. He knows people at the college level all across the country and I think he’ll at least bring some college names to the table.

I also think Hurney is bright enough and has enough of an open mind that he at least would consider going the college route.

People already have been throwing around Jim Harbaugh’s name and I think there are at least logical reasons for the Panthers to take a look at him. Harbaugh’s had success at Stanford and he’s young and enthusiastic. He also is the guy who has been coaching Andrew Luck. In case you haven’t heard, there is a pretty good chance Luck will be the first player chosen in the 2011 draft. There’s an even better chance the 1-11 Panthers will hold that pick.

A package deal? Perhaps. But I’m not convinced the people who still will be in power are ready to give up on Jimmy Clausen, although Fox never embraced him. It’s possible the Panthers could hire Harbaugh and ask him to develop Clausen. It’s possible they could try to trade the top pick to add more picks. But if Luck is as good as everyone seems to think he is, it would be awfully hard to pass on a franchise quarterback.

Harbaugh may be a college coach, but he had a lengthy NFL career, so the transition wouldn’t be that dramatic.

Now, I’m going to throw out one other college name that I think could fit Carolina’s profile. That’s Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly. He has no NFL experience, but neither did Morrison before he was hired. Like Morrison as an athletic director, Kelly has moved steadily up the college ranks. He had great success at Cincinnati and that got him the Notre Dame job.

Again, I’m not saying the Panthers definitely will hire a college coach. But I think it’s at least a consideration. Keep in mind, this is a team that got stale the past few years under Fox.

The Panthers need a guy who will liven things up. Starting fresh with a college coach might not be a bad option.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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