Riverboat Ron has sunk.
Less than 48 hours after the Carolina Panthers inexplicably blew a lead and lost to a rebuilding Washington Redskins, the team decided the time is now to start making changes. In what figures to be the first of many moves around the franchise over the coming months, that resulted in the firing of head coach Ron Rivera after nine seasons in charge and a 76-63 record — including a 5-7 mark this year.
This is the first major decision for David Tepper since taking over as owner and is bound to include further hires of an assistant general manager and likely somebody to oversee all football operations as well. Those openings figure to have bearing on who ultimately gets the gig, which likely will pay well and offer the opportunity to build around key players like Christian McCaffrey and others.
Who could wind up replacing Rivera? Here are 10 candidates to watch that could be Carolina's next head coach:
The NFL assistants
Greg Roman, Ravens offensive coordinator
Roman's work in turning Lamar Jackson into an MVP candidate (not to mention helping tutor Andrew Luck and taking the 49ers to the Super Bowl) has made him the hot candidate this cycle. It goes without saying that hiring somebody like him would mean the franchise is still all-in on Cam Newton as the QB of the present but he would also be a great fit for maximizing the amount of slot receivers and tailbacks on the roster too.
Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator
Even though the New England offense isn't operating at peak efficiency right now, McDaniels is going to be one of the more courted candidates every offseason until he either takes another gig or assumes the reins from Bill Belichick. He's highly regarded for his offensive mind and there's enough structure in place in Charlotte that he could be enticed at the opportunity to take over at a time where the NFC South could be in flux going forward. He'll be well equipped to deal with either resurrecting Cam Newton's career or drafting his successor and don't discount the idea of him being a package hire with Pats director of player personnel Nick Caserio either.
Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator
Andy Reid has groomed a number of head coaches who have gone onto success and Bieniemy appears to be the latest in line. The Panthers would probably prefer somebody with an offensive background and the fact that the Chiefs' OC is a former player for many years should only enhance his candidacy. Tepper spent years in Pittsburgh seeing what Mike Tomlin could do and might be able to find an offensive version of him in Bieniemy.
Kevin Stefanski, Vikings offensive coordinator
Another OC whose background could mesh well with the current roster, Stefanski's run-centric/play-action approach with Dalvin Cook and Kirk Cousins could find a nice home in Carolina. Though he doesn't have the outside buzz like those who have served with Sean McVay did last year, he's highly respected around the league and somebody ready to finally move up to the big chair after working his way through the ranks in Minnesota.
Todd Monken, Browns offensive coordinator
A former college head coach, Monken knows the division well from his lengthy stint with the Buccaneers. He's a creative play-caller and would likely bring the kind of forward-thinking, analytical approach that the front office wants to lean on.
Matt Eberflus, Colts defensive coordinator
Eberflus could be one of the few forward-thinking defensive minds to get a look from Carolina. He spent time under Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel in college and worked for a variety of different head coaches who know offense really well. His current work with the Colts is highly regarded and at 49 would be a relatively young head coach who could help grow with the rebuilding organization around him.
The college coach
Matt Rhule, Baylor head coach
The Bears going from a quality turnaround story to one of the handful of College Football Playoff contenders under Rhule has continued to make him a hot name in NFL circles. He's interviewed with the Colts and Jets before and earns raves from anybody who has come across him. He signed a new deal to stay in Waco earlier this year but even with a significant buyout in place, that probably isn't enough to discourage ownership to take a run at one of the few college coaches who could be a slam dunk at the next level.
Mike McCarthy, former Packers head coach
After taking a year off to recharge, McCarthy figures to garner plenty of steam with all the openings this year. Though he faded toward the end, his body of work in Green Bay remains impressive and it would make a statement locally and in the league for Tepper to bring in somebody with a ring. It wouldn't be shocking if he's one of the first candidates to interview since he's not employed and he could be the perfect person to bring along Cam Newton (or somebody else) after the work he put in developing Aaron Rodgers early on.
Mike Tomlin, Steelers head coach
Why not? Tomlin has done one of the best coaching jobs of his career this season despite having a broken roster. He was floated earlier in the year in connection to the opening at Washington but the comfort factor with a former Steelers owner and the long leash to rebuild the team would make for a much more appealing opportunity. He might be going on three years without a playoff victory so while that might not mean Pittsburgh is going to fire him, the team could listen to trading him to a willing partner for a top-100 pick in the draft.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.