February 26, 2024

The Panthers coaching job deserves a major warning label thanks to David Tepper


Warning, Ben Johnson… and everyone else lined up as the next new NFL head coach: be very wary of what you wish for.

The Carolina Panthers have a vacancy (again) after dumping Frank Reich on Monday, as team owner David Tepper is apparently eager to make a splash in his recruiting cycle league.

This is an enticing development for prospects climbing the ladder and anticipating a big jump. There are only 32 of these jobs available in the NFL. You can only be so picky.

But they need to pay serious attention to the red flags.

That Reich was fired just 11 games into his tenure reflects a mess that seemingly goes deeper than the Panthers’ 1-10 record. Sure, the product stunk. Carolina has fielded a dismal offense that belies Reich’s reputation as an offensive guru and has gobbled up Bryce Young, who was drafted No. 1 overall in April as the face of better things to come. Maybe with more time, Reich could have made it better. Maybe not.

What is not in dispute is that this is also on Tepper. The Panthers owner got what he wanted with his choice of coach and quarterback, and it has already blown up in his face.

And the circumstances for the next coach will be even tougher.

Tepper is positioned to hire his third coach in less than two years, with Reich getting the job in January after Matt Rhule was fired in 2022. His record is not good.

After Steve Wilks led a turnaround as interim coach last season — Rhule started 1-4, then Wilks went 6-6 — Tepper ignored the potential and looked the other way. Let’s not forget that. He didn’t give Wilks a chance, despite the apparent injection of life injected into his franchise last season under the leadership of his defensive coordinator.

So Tepper, like too many NFL owners, looked for an offensive coach and burned himself.

Certainly, there are many examples of offensive coaches who have done it well, just as there are defensive coaches and special teams coaches who have done it well. The key is to hire the coach who is in charge of the room and can set the course regardless of whether he or she is on offense.

In Carolina’s case, Tepper is a different type of X-factor. In March, he signed the big trade with the Chicago Bears, allowing the Panthers to move up to the top spot in the draft – they traded their first-round picks in 2023, the Panthers gave up a first-round pick in 2024 and the second round. -round picks in 2023 and 2025, plus star receiver DJ Moore. Many team owners would have done so, with GM Scott Fitterer no doubt brokering the deal.

The trade looks even worse now given the Panthers’ plummet. The No. 1 pick in next year’s draft, which will come if (or when) Carolina finishes this season with the NFL’s worst record, now belongs to Chicago.

Then there’s the big question of whether the Panthers selected Young over C.J. Stroud with the No. 1 overall pick to appease the team owner. In other words, Young was Tepper’s choice. Stroud might have been Reich’s choice. If that was the case, the mud is now even thicker on Tepper’s fingers.

Publicly, the Panthers’ brain trust has maintained since the draft that they were on the same page in selecting Young. They were supposed so to speak, even though there was division behind the scenes over which quarterback to pick. If only the fly on the wall could speak.

Either way, with Young floundering while Stroud touts the Houston Texans as the no-brainer choice to earn NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, it appears the Panthers’ big decision on which the young quarterback should build on now could set the franchise back years.

There was certainly a lot to like about Young. Despite his small stature (5-10, 204 pounds), he was a big winner at Alabama and a Heisman Trophy recipient because he tantalized defenses with his mobility, accuracy and smarts. Those traits didn’t disappear overnight, but at the NFL level he was always going to need support — which is the case for any quarterback, even Patrick Mahomes.

That the Panthers also packed two of Reich’s top assistants — Duce Staley (assistant head coach) and Josh McCown (quarterbacks) — sent a message about how Tepper thinks about the direction of the offense. But you wonder if Stroud would be in the Rookie-of-the-Year conversation had he landed in Carolina.

But not long ago, Tepper was all in on these big moves — and remember the rumors about the veteran coaching staff assembled to back Young and Reich — and now he’s not. Hmmm.

This lack of patience is clearly a thing in the NFL now. It used to be rare for a coach to be fired after just one season, and virtually unheard of for a first-year coach to be dumped during the day that first season. Now it’s happened three years in a row, with Reich following Nathaniel Hackett (Broncos) and Urban Meyer (Jaguars) as they were kicked to the curb without completing Year 1. The owners saw enough to know.

The Broncos fixed it with Sean Payton. The Jaguars worked it out with Doug Pederson. Maybe that represents hope in Carolina — greetings, Panthers fans — but with Tepper calling, all bets are off. He thought he made the right move by hiring a coach with NFL experience, and look at the mess now. Rebuilding the Panthers will likely require a coach with experience and autonomy.

Funny, Tepper was a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers before purchasing the Panthers in 2018. Yes, those Steelers, who have only had three coaches in 54 years. Tepper apparently didn’t bring the Steelers handbook. And as owner of the MLS franchise Charlotte FC, Tepper has also fired two soccer head coaches in the past four years.

No, patience is not Tepper’s dominant trait when it comes to coaches. At least not now. I doubt that will change in the near future. Think about how Tepper is apparently wired. If Tepper didn’t have the time to see Reich play, he probably doesn’t have the courage to rebuild for a long time for a team that’s at the bottom of the NFL’s worst division.

Therefore, the listing for the Carolina vacancy must have a warning label.

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