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Carolina Panthers

The Panthers' job vacancy should come with a warning label. Why? Team owner David Tepper

Jarrett Bell

Warning, Ben Johnson…and any others lining up as the next hot NFL head coach hire: Be very wary of what you wish for.

The Carolina Panthers have a job opening (again), having dumped Frank Reich on Monday as team owner David Tepper apparently is eager to get a jump on his hiring-cycle competition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

After Steve Wilks inspired a turnaround as interim coach last season – Rhule started 1-4, then Wilks went 6-6 – Tepper dismissed the potential and looked the other way. Let’s not forget that. He didn’t give Wilks a chance, despite the apparent infusion of life injected into his franchise last season with his defensive coordinator in charge.

So, Tepper, like too many NFL owners, sought an offensive-minded coach and burned himself.

Tommy Tremble #82 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Bank of America Stadium on November 19, 2023 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Sure, there are many examples of offensive coaches-done-well, just as there are defensive coaches and special-teams coaches who have done well. The key is to hire the coach who can command the room and chart the course, regardless of whether they came up on offense.

In Carolina’s case, Tepper is another type of X-factor. He signed off on the big trade with the Chicago Bears in March that allowed the Panthers to move up to the top slot in the draft – they swapped first-round picks in 2023, the Panthers gave up a first-round choice in 2024 and second-round picks in 2023 and 2025, plus star receiver DJ Moore. A lot of team owners would have done that, with GM Scott Fitterer undoubtedly brokering the deal.

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

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

Publicly, the Panthers brain trust has maintained since the draft that they were on the same page in choosing Young. That’s what they were supposed to say, even if there was behind-the-scenes division on which quarterback to pick. If only the fly on the wall could speak.

In any event, with Young floundering while Stroud lights it up with the Houston Texans as the no-brainer choice to earn NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, that big decision by the Panthers on which young quarterback to build with now seems like it could set the franchise back for years.

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

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

Then again, not too long ago, Tepper was all-in on these big moves – and remember the buzz about the veteran coaching staff that was assembled to support Young and Reich -- and now he’s not. Hmmm.

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

The Broncos fixed it with Sean Payton. The Jaguars fixed it with Doug Pederson. Maybe that represents hope in Carolina – bless you, Panthers fans – but with Tepper making the call, all bets are off. He thought he made the right move in hiring a coach with NFL experience, and look at the mess now. To rebuild the Panthers, it will probably take a coach with experience and autonomy.

Funny, Tepper was a minority owner with the Pittsburgh Steelers before buying the Panthers in 2018. Yeah, those Steelers, who have had just three coaches in 54 years. Tepper apparently hasn’t brought the Steelers handbook with him. And as the owner of the MLS franchise Charlotte FC, Tepper has also fired two soccer head coaches within the past four years.

No, patience is not the dominant trait for Tepper when it comes to coaches. At least not now. I’m doubting that will change in the near future. Think about how Tepper is seemingly wired. If Tepper didn’t have the time to see it play out for Reich, he probably doesn’t have the stomach for a long rebuild for a team that brings up the rear in the NFL’s worst division.

Which is why the listing for the job opening in Carolina should come with a warning label.

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