He may be a top-rated hedge fund manager and the owner of an NFL franchise, but David Tepper is just a regular guy, like you and me. Call him Joe Sixpack.
After all, that’s how many coaches he’s now gone through in five-plus years as Panthers owner.
Just to summarize: In the 23 years pre-Tepper, the Panthers had four head coaches.
They’re on their sixth since he bought the team in 2018.
For the record, they are Ron Rivera, Perry Fewell, Matt Rhule, Steve Wilks, Frank Reich and Chris Tabor.
It would be an easy cliché to call him the NFL’s version of George Steinbrenner, but The Boss had only gone through five different managers by the end of Year 6 in the Bronx. He’d also won two titles.
Sure, half of the guys in Tepper’s six-pack have been interim coaches, but that’s because Tepper has pulled the trigger on firing his coach midseason three times — every other year, in other words. The logic behind that is to get a head start on the coaching search so he’ll make the right decision next time.
How’s that been working out so far?
By the way, the products of those coaching searches, Matt Rhule and Frank Reich? They’ve gone a combined 12-37 with the Panthers for a .245 winning percentage. The interim guys? They had a 6-10 record, .375. So the best available guy in the building we didn’t fire today did 50% better than the hand-picked coach the team took extra time to find by making a midseason move.
If you’ll remember, a little over a year ago when Tepper fired Matt Rhule, he said, “I think that we have to figure out how to get a culture of winning here, which we haven’t had in a long time in this place. As I said at some point, this team has never had two winning seasons (in a row). So I don’t really think it ever really had a culture of winning.”
For the record, those pre-Tepper Panthers coaches had a combined record of 183-184, .499, which is 176 points higher than Mr. Culture of Winning’s percentage with the Panthers. In fact, Tepper’s coaches have a .323 winning percentage (30-63) when coaching for him and a .506 percentage (136-133) when coaching for any other NFL owner.
Don’t get me wrong. No one is saying Rhule or Reich needed more time on the job. The best Panthers coach in the Tepper era was the guy he didn’t want to keep following last season. Steve Wilks is the only one of Tepper’s six-pack to manage a .500 record with the Panthers under the owner. He inherited the mess Rhule left behind, stood by as the team traded his best player, Christian McCaffrey, and managed to go 6-6. The locker room loved him. He was a Charlotte guy. But he wasn’t a name. Keeping him didn’t make the splash to show the owner was getting things done and sparing no expense.
Wilks also had class. His statement after not getting the full-time job started with, “The sun rose this morning and by the grace of God so did I. I’m disappointed but not defeated. Many people aren’t built for this but I know what it means to persevere and see it through.”
It’s enough to make you wonder, whatever happened to that guy? Wilks got hired as San Francisco’s defensive coordinator. Care to guess which team’s defense has allowed the fewest points in the NFL so far this season? It’s not the team that just fired their coach — that one’s ranked No. 31. Care to guess which team leads the NFL in defensive interceptions and turnover margin?
Tepper hired the wrong guy last year and let the right guy walk. He may be about to do it again. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor was named interim head coach and will (presumably) finish out the season. Meanwhile, the team’s current defensive coordinator, Ejiro Evero, was a finalist for the head coaching job Reich won a few months ago. He rebuilt the defense, which has been the strength of the team all season, and he’s considered a top candidate for the coaching vacancies to come after the season. And Tepper passed him over for the interim gig. To summarize: You fire Reich now to get the search started, then shun the person who just missed out the last time. I don’t think head start means what you think it does.
Of course, it could be that Tepper already has his next guy identified. He tried hiring the hottest college coach on the market — except it was Matt Rhule. Then he tried hiring the former NFL quarterback everyone knew — except it was Frank Reich. Now Tepper can do the best of both and bring in Jim Harbaugh, who seems to be about at the end of his time at Michigan. It will be big. It will be splashy.
It may even work. Or maybe we’ll be right back here, same time next season.
And meanwhile, Wilks will have some company at the top of the NFL rankings from the team that hires Ejiro Evero.
It’s enough to make Panthers fans do what David Tepper is about to — start another six-pack.