In 1995, the Carolina Panthers had the best season of any expansion franchise in the history of the NFL. They went 7-9 during a year in which they did not have a home stadium, and played those eight games at Clemson. The next season they went 12-4 and played in the NFC Championship Game, and the 2003 team lost a Super Bowl to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots by three points. As of Nov. 27, 2023, the Panthers appear to be locked into the worst record in the NFL, and will not have a No. 1 overall draft pick to show for it. Truly excellent work by team owner David Tepper.
The day after the Panthers’ most recent loss, 17-10 against the Tennessee Titans, Tepper announced that Frank Reich is no longer head coach of the team. He is also parting ways with assistant head coach/running backs coach, Duce Staley, and quarterbacks coach Josh McCown.
This the second consecutive season in which Tepper has fired a head coach with games remaining on the schedule. Five games into the previous one, he fired Matt Rhule. In 2020, Tepper shook the coaching contract market like a snow globe by inking a person who had never even led a position group in the NFL to a seven-year, $60 million deal.
Making unconventional decisions is how Tepper earned enough money to purchase the Panthers in 2018. He zigged while many others in finance zagged during economic downturns in the late 1980s and 2000s. His companies charged forward like bulls and were rewarded. Also, early in his career on Wall Street, he rubbed people at Goldman Sachs the wrong way by, according to a 2010 New York Magazine profile, being “loud, and profane, and a know it all.”
I always believed that those were characteristics expected of people in the financial world. I mean, Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese had to have done their research in order for Wall Street and The Wolf of Wall Street to be such iconic films. Then again, Tepper is a person who kept a set of veiny brass balls at his desk that he would rub in front of people. Even Jordan Belfort would have looked at that and said, “Bro, you’re doing too much.”
Becoming a billionaire by literally using money for the sole purpose of making more money, that type success would result in Tepper believing that his same hyper-aggressive approach would work in the NFL. The problem with that hubris is players and coaches are not decimal points and digits. People who have spent a career working in the NFL are keenly aware of that.
Which is why professional sports franchise owners, especially these hedge fund types, should allow the professional football minds to make major decisions. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio has reported that there is belief in “league circles” that the Panthers’ front office was not all in on drafting Bryce Young. They all just said that they were publicly to not cross Tepper.
Drafting Young was not the problem. What he lacked in size he made up for in playmaking, especially under pressure. However, pressure in the SEC is different from being hounded by NFL defenders since the second episode of Hard Knocks.
What might have helped ease Young into the NFL would have been an escape hatch like D.J. Moore at wide receiver. Moore now plays for the Chicago Bears, who own the Panthers’ first-round pick. Tepper’s two big moves since purchasing the team in 2018 have dragged the Panthers down from their pedestal as a model expansion franchise success. Currently, Carolina has limited assets available to infuse talent into its roster and no stability at head coach. Tepper abruptly parted ways with Reich after asking him to make hamburgers and then giving him condiments and buns, but no meat.
Even though the Panthers play in the weak NFC South, they have not finished a season with a winning record since Tepper purchased the franchise — a streak that will continue since they are currently 1-10. It is reasonable for him to be upset, but the position they are in is largely his fault.
The NFL is not the stock market. It is a business in which the goal is to assemble talent, not a portfolio. Tepper has proven for many decades that he is an expert when it comes to investing money.
In that business, he achieved success by spending money wisely. That is still the route to success as an NFL owner, but the road is different. Since Tepper is still learning about this new terrain, he would be better off letting people with more experience navigate it for him so his franchise will stop spinning out into ditches.