David Tepper unplugged: Panthers owner riffs on QBs, stadiums and what he despises most

David Tepper unplugged: Panthers owner riffs on QBs, stadiums and what he despises most
Without being asked, Tepper referenced the team never posting consecutive winning seasons in its 24-plus years, and its plodding, win-one, lose-one tendencies (Carolina is 195-198-1 in its franchise regular-season history, and 5-5 in 2019). (Source: David T. Foster III | Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - In these days of hidden agendas and frequent “no comments,” Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper did something strange Monday — he told a roomful of reporters exactly what he thought.

In a spur-of-the-moment gathering of about 20 reporters, including three from The Charlotte Observer, Tepper left no doubt he’s dissatisfied with the Panthers’ long-term mediocrity. Without being asked, Tepper referenced the team never posting consecutive winning seasons in its 24-plus years, and its plodding, win-one, lose-one tendencies (Carolina is 195-198-1 in its franchise regular-season history, and 5-5 in 2019).

That’s not good enough, Tepper proclaimed. He said he despises mediocrity, especially when it never seems to end. The owner said he wants to win and said he can’t conceive of not seeing a day when the Panthers are consistently a winning team.

The session was for context only. Tepper didn’t want to be directly quoted, except for this: “Every time we have a loss, my mood is sh------.”

There was one other pre-established guideline besides that “don’t-quote-Tepper” rule. Reporters were told before meeting with Tepper that he wouldn’t entertain any questions about the long-term job security of either head coach Ron Rivera or general manager Marty Hurney.

Otherwise, Tepper was in rare form. Well, not that rare — the city of Charlotte is finding out that Tepper in most situations is generally uncensored and inherently likable.

In a freewheeling Q-and-A that lasted nearly an hour, Tepper expounded on everything from quarterback Cam Newton to the team’s stadium situation to how much he was still seething that Carolina got whipped at home, 29-3, by Atlanta on Sunday. The owner said he had to get up twice Sunday night because he was still so mad about it.

But Tepper didn’t get to be worth $12 billion by making rash decisions based on short-term irritation. And he’s not planning to do that with the team that he bought for $2.275 billion before the 2018 season — and one that he has seen go 12-14 under his ownership, continuing along that path to mediocrity that Tepper loathes. (If the path continues over the next six games, though, it’s fair to assume Rivera and Hurney’s jobs are in danger.)

NO DECISION ON CAM

Tepper advocated a measured approach to the decision of what to do with quarterback Cam Newton. If Newton can fully come back from his Lisfranc foot injury, Tepper believes Newton can still be one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks.

In an ideal world, Tepper said, the Panthers would win a Super Bowl with a healthy Newton. But, as the owner said, there are a lot of other options for the team, and not all include Newton.

Tepper said several times there would be no decision on whether Newton plays for the Panthers in 2020, the final year of his contract, until it’s determined whether Newton can actually get healthy. The owner also said he didn’t know if Newton was going to have surgery to repair his injured foot, which sidelined the ninth-year quarterback for all but the first two games of the 2019 season.

It now seems certain that Tepper’s looming decision on whether to keep Rivera and Hurney (likely made in early January) will come weeks before the team decides on whether to pay Newton $21.2 million next year. If Tepper were to replace Rivera and Hurney, the new coach and GM would be instrumental in that decision.

STADIUMS AND KAEPERNICK

Other things Tepper said that I found interesting:

  • Tepper undoubtedly thinks that the Panthers are going to need a new stadium at some point and that renovations to Bank of America stadium will stave off the inevitable — but not forever. One option he would consider is land owned by Charlotte Pipe & Foundry, which sits near the stadium.
  • If Tepper and the city of Charlotte don’t get a Major League Soccer team, I’ll be stunned.
  • Tepper is well aware of the long-term commitment permanent-seat license owners made to the current stadium, and it sounded to me like some price break or other accommodation would be made for PSL holders in a new stadium. But what sort of break hasn’t been determined, since a new stadium sounded as if it were at least 7-10 years down the road and maybe more.
  • Tepper said the Panthers weren’t in the market for quarterback Colin Kaepernick and so it would have been disingenuous (he used a much more colorful word) to attend Kaepernick’s workout Saturday in Georgia. He did say he watched a bit of Kaepernick’s workout on his mobile phone, however.
  • Tepper said the organization has determined that several factors — including mobile ticketing, Newton’s absence and a lack of high-profile home opponents — have contributed to the Panthers’ dwindling crowds at some games.
  • Tepper and a team official said the Panthers have told Wofford College they will let them know whether they will hold training camp there in 2020 by February. The team plans to build a new training site in Rock Hill, but that won’t open until 2022. Tepper noted the team also could simply hold “camp” at home in Charlotte, as many NFL teams now do, and possibly use the dorms at Johnson & Wales.
  • My biggest takeaway? Tepper’s continued use of the word “mediocrity,” and how frustrated it makes him. He said he understood why Panthers fans would be frustrated, too, especially if they’ve watched seasons like this one unfold for so many years.

One way or another, a lot of change is coming.

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