What if Joe Gibbs had coached Panthers?

Tony Dungy is the only NFC South representative to appear in our greatest coaches series that’s been running over on our main NFL page. But today’s featured coach once came very close to landing in the division.

Joe Gibbs came in at No. 9 and that got me thinking: What if Gibbs had been the first coach of the Carolina Panthers?

It could have happened. When Jerry Richardson was granted an expansion team to begin play in 1995, it was widely known that Gibbs was the coach he wanted. Gibbs had retired from the Redskins in 1992 to focus on his NASCAR team.

But Richardson tried desperately to coax Gibbs back into coaching. It didn’t happen and Richardson eventually turned to Dom Capers. The Panthers had incredible early success, reaching the NFC Championship Game in their second season. But things fell apart quickly and Capers was gone after four seasons.

The George Seifert era followed and didn’t amount to much. John Fox had the longest tenure of any Carolina coach and took the team to its only Super Bowl. But Fox never could put together back-to-back winning seasons. Ron Rivera still is trying for his first winning season.

Would things have turned out differently if Gibbs had taken the job? That’s tough to say. But I think the franchise’s ride might have been a lot smoother with Gibbs, who might have been better equipped to build a team for the long term.

Gibbs eventually returned to coach the Redskins in 2004 and made the playoffs twice in four seasons. He showed that the game hadn’t passed him by.

Maybe, if Gibbs had come to Carolina, the Panthers would have had longer periods of sustained success. And maybe, just maybe, Gibbs still would be coaching the Panthers.