David Tepper Got What He Paid For With Frank Reich

The expectations for this year’s Carolina Panthers weren’t incredibly high, with the arrivals of a new head coach and a rookie quarterback, but they were certainly higher than this. On Sunday the team lost to the Tennessee Titans, 17-10, and this baffling fourth-down play at the end felt representative of the Panthers’ current state: lackluster, scared, doomed.

After the loss, Bryce Young took responsibility for the check to D.J. Chark, but it felt more like the obligatory mea culpa expected from a QB. Even if you want to pin this one on the rookie, head coach Frank Reich can wear the other nine losses of this 1-10 team. (Apportion some of that blame to general manager Scott Fitterer, too.) Carolina hasn’t scored more than 15 points since a 42-21 loss to the Dolphins in Week 6. The Panthers have no running game. Young is moving past the typical rookie stage of trial and error and getting into “somebody save this guy from himself” territory. Reich might have been a pastor, but he’s in no position to do any saving.

It might be hard to remember now, but after firing Matt Rhule last year, the Panthers weren’t a terrible team. They overcame Rhule’s 1-4 start to end the season at 7-10. The guy responsible for that 6-6 finish was Steve Wilks, who after his interim stint in Carolina left to be the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, because team owner David Tepper didn’t offer him the permanent position. Wilks struggled a bit in October when the defense faltered amid a three-game losing streak, but since then the team has won three straight and currently sits at 8-3. Objectively, the Niners are in far better shape than Carolina.

This past January, after Wilks had improved the morale of a team that had traded away Christian McCaffrey, Tepper conducted his requisite interviews and went in a different direction. He picked Reich, who had been fired by the Indianapolis Colts last season after a 3-5-1 start. What he saw in the coach is unclear, but that decision should haunt him. Tepper could’ve had some kind of continuity with Wilks. Instead, he picked a guy who won’t reach .500 even if the Panthers win out. That’s assuming Reich isn’t fired before the end of the season, anyway.

Back in January, I wondered what more Wilks could have possibly done to justify the head coaching job. The decision to pick Reich looked bad then and is astonishing in retrospect. It feels like Tepper’s committed to filling the absence created when Dan Snyder sold the Washington Commanders. Even by the low standards of NFL ownership, Tepper is unpleasant and incompetent. All he could do after Sunday’s loss was shake his head and yell “Fuck!” That was his first comprehensible move in a while.

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