CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper said Frank Reich’s strong and qualified background as an offensive-minded coach is one of the primary reasons he hired him as the team’s new head coach.
And, ultimately, one of the reasons the Panthers passed on bringing back interim head coach Steve Wilks, who comes from a defensive background.
“Every year we get in these NFL (owners) meetings and every year they put some new rule in to benefit the offense — every single year,” Tepper said. “Every single year, and it’s never going to end. Every year. And the reason is that scoring brings eyeballs.”
The Panthers hope Reich can help them capitalize on the offense-focused rules.
Reich, who was introduced at a news conference on Tuesday five days after the team announced his hire, becomes the first Panthers head coach with an offensive background.
He spent 14 seasons as an NFL quarterback, then worked his way up through the ranks as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, winning a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles five years ago, before becoming head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in 2018.
Tepper said he didn’t want to make the same “mistake” as he did in 2020 when he hired Matt Rhule, whom he classified as a “CEO type” coach.
Rhule’s tenure in Carolina didn’t last long. He was fired just five games into his third season after going 11-27.
“It’s preferable to have a coach that is really extraordinary on one side of the ball or the other side of the ball,” Tepper said. “And we think Frank is really good on offense.”
Wilks became an extremely popular figure in the Carolina locker room this past season, going 6-6 down the stretch after taking over a team that was 1-5 under Rhule and had just traded its best offensive player in Christian McCaffrey.
But it wasn’t enough to give him the full-time job.
Tepper personally interviewed four different NFL offensive coordinators before settling on Reich.
Reich wouldn’t confirm he plans to call plays in Carolina, but it sounds as if that’s his preference.
“Obviously I’ve always enjoyed doing that, and felt like I’ve had a good bit of success doing that,” Reich said.
“When you have a head coach who has played the position, he knows what looking through that lens of a quarterback looks like,” Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said. “He knows what processing looks like, how to call games through that eye. So there are a lot of advantages to having an offensive head coach.”
Tepper and Fitterer said what set Reich apart from other candidates was that he’d locked in on quality assistant coaches to join his staff — although the Panthers have yet to announce any of those hires.
Tepper, a multibillionaire hedge fund owner, is a strong believer that you’re only as good as your supporting cast.
“He was the one who stood out clearest to vet the very best coaches we can have to help this team be as successful as we can be,” Tepper said. “… Everybody presented who they had and what they were thinking to help us win in the future, and we made the decision based on that.”
Reich has his work cut out for him moving forward.
The Panthers are 29-53 since Tepper purchased the team and haven’t won a playoff game since 2015.
Carolina’s defense is solid, but it has no clear-cut answer at quarterback. Sam Darnold, who has been so-so over the past two seasons, is set to become an unrestricted free agent and P.J. Walker and Matt Corral, who missed his rookie season with an injury, are the other quarterbacks on the roster.
Still, Reich remains optimistic.
He likes the team’s offensive line and running game behind D’Onta Foreman, but said the Panthers need to find a better way of creating chunk plays in the passing game. The Panthers finished 29th in the league in passing.
For Reich, the return to Carolina is a bit of a homecoming.
He started the first game for the Panthers in 1995. A handful of Reich’s teammates from that expansion team attended the news conference, including Pete Metzelaars, John Kasay and Carlton Bailey.
Reich talked to the crowd about building a winner.
He harkened back to a saying he learned early in his football career and still keeps on his desk at home: “That no man becomes suddenly different from his habits and cherished thoughts.”
“We are going to be a team that is about creating championships habits, championship thoughts,” Reich said. “We are going to cultivate those, we are going to nurture those and as they grow and they are going to be infectious.”