Tepper – who has run the Panthers franchise into the ground over the last five years – announced his decision to hire former Indianapolis Colts’ head coach Frank Reich on Thursday. In naming Reich – who was fired in Indianapolis after a 3-5-1 start last season – Tepper bypassed interim head coach Steve Wilks, who posted a 6-6 record with the Panthers after Tepper fired former head coach Matt Rhule on October 10, 2022.
Wilks was a favorite of fans and players – and believed by many to be the frontrunner for the position after taking a 1-4 team and putting them in playoff contention. Wilks’ turnaround job was even more impressive considering it was accomplished after the Panthers traded star tailback Christian McCaffrey.
Carolina also played three different starting quarterbacks during Wilks’ brief tenure as interim coach.
Nonetheless, Tepper decided to go with Reich – a move which prompted a rebuke from Wilks’ attorneys.
“We are shocked and disturbed that after the incredible job Coach Wilks did as the interim coach, including bringing the team back into playoff contention and garnering the support of players and fans, that he was passed over for the head coach position by David Tepper,” a statement from attorneys Douglas H. Wigdor and John Elefterakis noted.
Wigdor is representing Wilks in a discrimination lawsuit against the National Football League (NFL) following Wilks’ firing as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2018. He posted a 3-13 record in one season in Arizona.
“There is a legitimate race problem in the NFL, and we can assure you that we will have more to say in the coming days,” Wigdor and Elefterakis added.
Do these attorneys have a point?
Well, let’s recap: A black coach turned around a struggling franchise without its star player and without stability at quarterback – but was passed over for a white coach who got fired midseason after crapping the bed with a team many felt should have gone to the Super Bowl.
Obviously, I can’t look inside Tepper’s mind and ascertain what motivated his decision (and regular members of our audience know I’m the last person to lend credence to baseless allegations of racism) but the move certainly raises eyebrows.
Tepper’s latest drama comes amid an ongoing investigation into allegations tied to the Panthers’ botched crony capitalist deal with the state of South Carolina.
The Panthers agreed to move their corporate headquarters and practice facility to Rock Hill, South Carolina in 2019 – a deal hailed as the signature economic development of S.C. governor Henry McMaster.
(Click to view)
McMaster and former S.C. commerce secretary Bobby Hitt claimed the Panthers’ facility would have created 5,715 new jobs and had an economic impact of more than $3.8 billion. However, an estimate commissioned by state senator Dick Harpootlian revealed these projections were “unfathomably high” and that the project would only create around 200 jobs.
“He got hoodooed by this guy,” Harpootlian said last year during a legislative debate. “(Tepper)’s worth $16 billion. He’s obviously hoodooed a few people here and there. He took our governor for a ride.”
Like Harpootlian, I staunchly opposed the Panthers’ multi-million dollar handout from the very beginning – arguing it was another example of the failed crony capitalist approach to “economic development” that continues to hold South Carolina back.
“This is a bad deal. Period,” I wrote in March of 2019. “South Carolina should pass on the Panthers … and tell Tepper that while he is welcome to locate in the Palmetto State, he is not going to get paid to bring (his team) here.”
Did racism factor into David Tepper's head coaching decision?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to proactively address? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.