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Carolina Panthers coach shopping? Preliminary search might be underway

Eric Edholm
Shutdown Corner

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(USA Today Sports Images)

The Carolina Panthers are coming off a victory in Week 3 that could have saved their season, and a bye week to try to get healthy.

But there might have been a little other work being done on the side. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Panthers at least are doing the groundwork on a possible coaching search in case Ron Rivera doesn't do enough to warrant returning in 2014:

There's little stunning about the first part of the report. New general manager Dave Gettleman was hired after Rivera had been brought back by owner Jerry Richardson so there's little history between the two. Anytime a coach is coming off a shaky season like the Panthers had in 2012, the team is going to have eyes open for a possible replacement.

But the last line of Rapoport's tweet is what's most intriguing. The fact that one possible candidate already knows he's in consideration is big.

Let's think this one through a bit ...

If it was a coach currently employed by an NFL team, we'd be talking about tampering here. And Gettleman, borne from the New York Giants, is too smart (even as a first-time GM) to let that information slip if that was the case. He has been around the game a long time and isn't known as a man who gabs endlessly.

So assuming it's a coach who currently it out of the league, you'd naturally come across some familiar — and big — names: Lovie Smith, Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher. The last one is one Panthers fans have heard for years. He has family in North Carolina and reportedly at least has thought about his interest in the job at times.

Cowher reportedly has wanted to hand-pick his GM cohort, so maybe that rules him out. But it won't stop others from connecting those dots at some point.

Here's a factor that must be considered: Rivera hasn't been fired yet. He's not close at this moment. The Panthers could go on a run here, like they did down the stretch last year, the type that could propel Rivera to an extension for all we know.

But the Panthers are at least preparing for the worst-case scenario, just in case they do not get hot.

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