Panthers owner David Tepper trying to end ‘old boys’ network’

CHARLOTTE, NC — Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper Tuesday, despite hiring Frank Reich as the team’s sixth head coach in place of Steve Wilks, insisted he was doing whatever it takes to break up the “old boys’ network” in the NFL.

The network of mostly white-owned old boys has a long history of failing to put minority candidates in positions of power, particularly where head coaches are concerned.

There are currently only three Black Head coaches, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Todd Bowles, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and Miami Dolphins’ Mike McDaniel.

The Panthers hired Reich, who is white, in place of Wilks, who is black. Tepper insisted the race had nothing to do with the decision.

He pointed to his leadership team, which includes: his wife, Nicole, the administrative director; Kristi Coleman, the administrative manager; Kisha Smith, a black woman who serves as senior vice president of human resources; and Tanya Taylor, General Counsel, who is a black woman.

“We probably have the most diverse leadership team in the NFL right now,” Tepper said. “We’re probably a minority of white males on our leadership team right now. That’s where it starts. This is America.

“How do you break the old boys’ network? How do you interrupt this process? You interrupt the process by trying to get the best possible people into every role you can fill. Is it the new one? [general counsel] We hired who happens to be African American. Whether it happens to be Frank Reich, who is a white man.”

Tepper insisted the decision to hire the 61-year-old Reich had more to do with him having an offensive background. The coaching search helped that. Seven of the nine candidates were from an attacking background and all but Jim Caldwell were white.

The two defensive-minded coaches were black.

“Every year we attend these NFL meetings and every year some new rules are introduced to benefit the offense. …every single year,” Tepper said. “And it will never end. It will never end.

“And the reason for that is scoring goals brings eyeballs. That’s what the league is about, getting eyeballs to see that thing. So, I can tell you again, the new rules will be offensive rules. So you have this challenge, first.”

Reich is the first offensive-minded coach in the team’s history, which began in 1995 when Reich was the starting quarterback for the Expansion franchise in its first three games.

Tepper never addressed whether the defensive-minded Wilks had a legitimate shot at the job given the direction of the search. Wilks led Carolina to a 6-6 finish after Matt Rhule was fired from a 1-4 start.

However, general manager Scott Fitterer did.

“He had a legitimate shot,” Fitterer said. “He did a damn good job leading this team. He’s a great man.”

Fitterer said what set Reich apart from Wilks and the other candidates was the interview process when he was “dialed in” with his plan and “second level” thinking.

He also admitted that hiring an offensive-minded coach is an advantage in today’s NFL.

“If you want to go on the offensive, there are some advantages,” he said. “And there are advantages to playing aggressively on the offensive side of the ball. … You saw it last weekend [in the NFC and AFC Championship Games where all four head coaches were offensive minded].”

The law firm representing Steve Wilks in his discrimination lawsuit he joined against the league after being fired after one season (2018) as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals saw things differently. The company issued a statement saying it was “shocked and concerned” by Carolina’s decision to hire Reich because of Wilks.

“There is a legitimate racial issue in the NFL and we can assure you that we will have more to say in the coming days,” the firm said Thursday after Reich was hired.

Reich focused his press conference on the challenge he faces taking on a team that has gone from 29-53 since Tepper bought the organization in 2018.

He didn’t commit to naming the games, saying the trend in the NFL is moving away from the head coach doing so. He said whether that happens depends on his offensive coordinator.

“Obviously I’ve always enjoyed doing that and felt like I’ve had a fair bit of success with it,” he said.

One of Reich’s first jobs, aside from hiring a staffer, will be finding a starting quarterback. The Panthers have had five different starters since 2020. Reich went through seven different starters in more than four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts before being fired in November.

Reich is grateful for a new opportunity so soon after his release.

“It’s a passing league but you have to be able to manage the ball to be a championship team,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m happy about this squad. I know we can. We’ll get the passing game right, but I know we can lead the football. Panthers owner David Tepper trying to end ‘old boys’ network’

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