Thomas Brown has one of the most important and difficult assignments with the Carolina Panthers, if not in the NFL, because is not only responsible for their offensive success as the coordinator; he must also blend his style with the very defined desires of head coach Frank Reich while also not screwing up first overall pick Bryce Young at quarterback.
It is also Brown’s first time as an offensive coordinator in the NFL after serving as an assistant head coach, running backs coach, and even tight ends coach over the last three years on the L.A. Rams under Sean McVay. Despite the Rams disappointing season in 2022, Brown is the latest in a long line of former McVay assistants to get promoted around the league and he could be the next to become a head coach.
The Carolina Panthers, praised all offseason for the staff that Reich has put together for the 2023 season, are a great opportunity for Brown to get that next step up and it could come as soon as 2024 despite him only being 37.
“I didn’t know anybody really on the staff before I got hired, but they’ve been phenomenal,” says Brown, about eight minutes into the first episode of “Panthers Blueprint” for Carolina’s YouTube channel. I’ve queued up the video to the part where he is profiled.
In a recent interview for Panthers.com, Reich mentioned how difficult it is to blend and compromise his style with an offensive coordinator’s differences, but Brown has had three years to take notes from McVay.“It’s not easy because, like, that’s your baby, you know what I mean?” Reich said of the offense.
“You don’t want to give up. But you understand, ‘Hey, we’re adopting some. This is going to make our family bigger and stronger.’ And that’s really the approach we’ve taken.
“Thomas makes it easy because I respect him. I respect his football mind. I respect who he is as a person. The couple of disagreements we’ve had, sometimes it’s ‘OK, Thomas, you win out, and we’re going to do it your way.’ Sometimes it’s, ‘We’re going to do it the old way.’ It’s just been a give-and-take.”
But Brown must not only convince Reich that he has the right answers, he has to convince players who were either part of a struggling offense in 2022 or are joining Carolina for the first time and hoping to become integral pieces to the team with plenty of opportunities: Young is the probable starting quarterback over veteran Andy Dalton; D.J. Chark, Adam Thielen, Laviska Shenault, and second rounder Jonathan Mingo are new Panthers fighting for targets at receiver; Hayden Hurst was added in the offseason at tight end; and since Brown himself is a former running back, free agent acquisition Miles Sanders is probably a priority for him to get involved as well.
Oftentimes in L.A., a coordinator may just be told, “Hey, I’m Sean McVay, we’ll do it this way, and these players have been with us for a long time.” But in Carolina, Brown is being told to build an offense from scratch but not without straying too far from Reich’s preferred style. Brown told the team’s website that he’s not the “happy police”:
“I’m not in the business of controlling people’s happiness; I’m not the happy police,” Brown said. “But definitely guys are wanting to be more involved. You want to have guys on your roster that want the ball in their hands and want to make plays. It’s a big part of what’s motivated guys up until this point, but it also makes you harder to defend.
“When you go into a game (and) you have multiple guys who can be in multiple spots, different formations, (you’re) able to use motion at times when necessary. But (it’s) also so you can’t just pinpoint on ‘This ball is going to this guy the majority of the time.’ Being able to spread the ball around, distribute to the entire field, and make the defense have to defend within the depth of the entire field. That’s the overall goal.”
If Brown succeeds—and there’s a good chance that the Panthers could win the NFC South division if Bryce Young is half as good as advertised—he could join Kevin O’Connell, Zac Taylor, and Matt LaFleur as former Rams offensive coaches who are now head coaches. On the defensive side of the ball, Brandon Staley makes four.
That’s where Carolina’s defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero could become the fifth (or sixth) former McVay disciple to become a head coach.
A secondary coach on the L.A. Rams for five years, the 42-year-old Evero is getting his second opportunity as an NFL defensive coordinator after the Denver Broncos decided not to retain him after firing Nathaniel Hackett and hiring Sean Payton. But the Broncos defense was a strong suit, ranking seventh in yards allowed, seventh in points per drive allowed, and fifth in yards per pass allowed in spite of how bad Denver’s offense was and constantly putting them in a bad position.
Reich wasted no time: Evero was released from his contract on February 4 and Reich hired him to be Carolina’s defensive coordinator on February 5.
Like the Broncos, the Panthers take great pride in their defense and Evero takes over a team that should perform much better than they did in 2022, having gone through two defensive coordinators last season.
Carolina has former first round picks Brian Burns, Jaycee Horn, Derrick Brown, and Shaq Thompson, plus former second rounders Yetur Gross-Matos, Donte Jackson, and Jeremy Chinn. In Burns, Evero has a player who has the potential to lead the NFL in sacks and if the Panthers win enough games with a top-10 defense, he could be a busy man in interviews next year and beyond.
“We’ve got Mr. Burns,” Evero told Panthers.com. “And then we’ve got a bunch of guys that are fighting and clawing and doing a heck of a job.”
The Carolina Panthers coaching staff is one of the biggest stories of the NFC offseason, not only transitioning from the disastrous tenure of Matt Rhule to Frank Reich, but also the people who he has assigned roles underneath him in the pecking order: Brown and Evero as the coordinators, plus running backs coach/assistant HC Duce Staley, QBs coach Josh McCown, WR coach Shawn Jefferson (Van’s father), senior assistants Dom Capers and Jim Caldwell, offensive line coach James Campen, and another former Rams assistant in CBs coach Jonathan Cooley.
Another former NFL star, DeAngelo Hall, is assisting with defensive backs.
The Panthers and Rams do not face each other in 2023. But in a way, they are closely tied and given the amount of coaching talent that McVay has seen leave in the last few years, as well as L.A.’s constant turnover among the assistants, Carolina’s success is definitely worth watching.