David Tepper didn’t wait to drop the bomb, and now he’ll personally begin to clean up the mess.
Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was fired after Sunday’s stunning home loss to Washington and possibly because of that loss. But the writing had been on the wall almost from the beginning of the season.
Or rather, since the withering run at the end of last season.
The scene Sunday was one Tepper, the franchise owner, simply wasn’t going to tolerate. This was more than a firing of a popular coach. This was a new owner sending a message to his organization and his fan base, much of which decided to sell their tickets Sunday to tourists in burgundy and gold.
With a month left in the season, Tepper decided to make the move now to both get a head start on a coaching search and to begin the process of a total rebuild of the Panthers franchise as we know it.
“We are going to take a comprehensive and thorough review of our football operation to make sure we are structured for long-term sustained success,” Tepper said in a statement released this afternoon. “Our vision is to find the right mix of old-school discipline and toughness with modern and innovative processes.”
There’s a lot to unpack there, but Tepper is looking at an overhaul of the organization from top to bottom.
This is going to be a little messy, as all rebuilding projects are in the NFL. These things don’t happen over the course of a month or an offseason. You bring in a new head coach, and it takes a couple of years to adjust. Add to that change in the front office and scouting departments, and you could be looking at several years of cleansing this franchise.
It’s going to take time and money, of which Tepper has plenty. With the almost certain decision to move quarterback Cam Newton and his $19 million salary for next season and the expected league decision to raise the salary caps as much as $18 million before next season, Tepper could already be playing with house money.
And now he has a head start on every other NFL franchise looking to make changes in the offseason.
“We will consider a wide range of football executives to complement our current football staff,” Tepper said. “One change that we will implement is hiring an assistant general manager and vice president of football operations. We all must recognize that this is the first step in a process, but we are committed to building and maintaining a championship culture for our team and our fans.”
Tepper will build inside out, and the former minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers will look at that franchise as a model. It’s likely that Tepper watched the Steelers this season go through far more issues than Carolina, and yet Pittsburgh is 7-5 and making a possible playoff run.
Carolina is 5-7, having lost four straight with no hope of the playoffs.
Tepper made sweeping changes to the business operations when he walked through the door, and everything he has done since has been about the culture, from the end of paper tickets to the future sites of training camp and the business offices, both of which will likely be moved to South Carolina.
It’s not unlikely that the site for a new downtown stadium will be announced soon.
Everything is about to change, and this was only the beginning.
When he mentions “old-school discipline and toughness,” he’s talking Steelers football. Make no mistake about that. When he mentions “modern and innovative processes,” he’s talking offense along the lines of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Baltimore Ravens, even the New Orleans Saints.
Tepper will build with scouts, general managers and an aggressive coaching staff that he plans to keep for years and years. That’s what the Steelers do.
He’ll do it with players who represent the organization, not themselves. And he’ll do it within a football framework, not the plantation-style management structure on which the Panthers were built.
Those days are over. They ended this afternoon with as bold a message any owner has made in recent years. Tepper fired a two-time coach of the year, one of the most respected defensive minds in the NFL and a popular man in Charlotte and around the NFL.
No job is safe now.
The bomb has been dropped. The Carolina Panthers, as we knew them, are no more. Nothing is sacred, not a coach, not a player nor even the logo itself.
Everything is about to change.