Coaching Musical Chairs …

The news yesterday of the firing of Frank Reich made me realize that we are in the midst of the football coaching equivalent of musical chairs.  Jobs are open; coaches are available; when the music stops some will have head coaching jobs and some will not.  I want to talk about two coaching situations today.

Frank Reich lasted all of 11 games with the Panthers before the impatience of owner David Tepper came to the fore.  Tepper hired Reich during the last round of coaching musical chairs with the idea that the Panthers would draft a young QB, and that Reich would be that QB’s tutor/mentor and would develop the youngster into a franchise QB.  Then the Panthers traded away a boatload of picks and their best WR to secure the overall #1 pick in the draft assuring that they would get “the guy they wanted”.  Nothing wrong with that plan – – save for the fact that it got off to the rockiest start imaginable with the Panthers losing 10 of their first 11 games this year.

David Tepper bought the Panthers in 2018 when the team’s founder, Jerry Richardson, was encouraged to sell the team.  Tepper’s background is as a hedge fund manager and an entrepreneur; I have never met David Tepper, but I get the vibe from him and his actions that he believes his experience managing market funds and businesses imbues him with the expertise needed to run a winning football program/team.  [Aside:  Danny Boy Snyder had a similar self-perception.]  So far, that belief has not borne fruit:

  • Since Tepper bought the team in 2018, the Panthers cumulative record is 30-63.
  • The team has not had a winning season since then.
  • Tepper fired Ron Rivera in 2020 and Matt Rhule in 2022 before firing Reich yesterday.

The choice of the person to take the job as interim-head coach is interesting.  Chris Tabor was the special teams’ coordinator for the Panthers this year and he will step up and become the interim-head coach.  Tabor is 52 years old and has one year of head coaching experience back in 2001 at Culver-Stockton College – – a Division III football program.  Knowing nothing about Chris Tabor, I am in no position to have an opinion on his qualifications as an interim-head coach in the NFL – – but I will note that David Tepper passed over someone on the Panthers’ payroll who has had NFL head coaching experience in the person of Jim Caldwell.  Play-calling duties will fall to the team’s offensive coordinator and Caldwell will be the offensive coordinator’s “special assistant”.

I am nowhere near ready to declare that rookie QB, Bryce Young, is a bust because he has a sub-par offensive line in front of him and no outstanding players at the so-called skill positions.  The problem is that the Panthers gave up 4 high draft picks to get the overall #1 pick that became Bryce Young so they are not likely to be in a position to build around Young via the draft.  The next coach for the Panthers will inherit a bag of problems.

However, the next coach also stands to be able to command a lucrative contract.  Matt Rhule got a 7-year deal reportedly worth $63M; Reich reportedly has $9M per year coming to him for the next three years.  And as I contemplated the situation in Carolina, I was struck with the parallel that can be drawn to the situation at Texas A&M at the collegiate level.

Recall that Jimbo Fisher was relieved of his duties as the head coach of the Aggies a few weeks ago and his total buyout was $75M – – not as a lump sum but paid out through 2031.  The Aggies have hired Fisher’s permanent replacement – – Mike Elko who was the head coach at Duke for the past couple of years but who was the Aggies’ defensive coordinator under Fisher before Fisher fell out of favor in College Station.  It seems to me that Elko and the next Panthers’ head coach can relate to each other:

  • Both will have demanding superiors with exalted expectations.  Tepper wants to win a Super Bowl; the Aggies Board of Regents wants to win a national championship.
  • Both will answer to superiors who want results quickly; there will be little tolerance for annual incremental improvement.
  • Both men will have to upgrade their rosters significantly in order to get on a path that will lead to the exalted expectations of their superiors.
  • Both men will be well-compensated for their efforts.

What fans of the Panthers and the Aggies should keep in mind to avoid the trauma of dashed exuberance is that the folks making the hiring decisions right now are the same folks who made the previous hiring decisions that did not work out so well.  There is euphoria in Aggie-land about now; fans are thrilled; alums are thrilled; the Athletic Department is thrilled.  And everything will stay in that joyful zone until the Aggies’ team has to climb over the entirety of the SEC which will jettison its division structure starting in 2024.  Just for the opportunity to compete in the CFP, the Aggies will need to surpass inter alia:

  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • LSU
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas

The Panthers would seem to have an easier path to the NFL playoffs – – if they can strike gold with lower round draft picks and if they can convince a top-shelf free agent or two to come to Charlotte and play for the Panthers.  However, neither situation involves a superhighway straight shot toward the lofty objectives.

Finally, since today has been about football coaches, let me close with this observation from Vince Lombardi:

“The only place that ‘success’ comes before ‘work’ is in the dictionary.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



4 thoughts on “Coaching Musical Chairs …”

  1. so, Carolina will be paying over $25 M to the head coach slot next year……

    …wonder when some team will try to sign some old pro, call him Roger Aaron, to some last playing job, and add some $10M/ year “coaching/consultant” years to it….

    1. Ed:

      I believe that whatever Matt Rhule is earning at Nebrasks counts as an offset for Tepper and the Panthers. However, you are correct; the Panthers will be playing 3 different guys as “head coach” next season – – one to do the job and two to stay home…

  2. In the five years Carolina Panthers’ owner David Tepper has owned the franchise, its value has risen from $2.3 billion to $4.1 billion. That is a 15.6% increase in value–per year. Always remember the classic owner’s comment in “North Dallas Forty:”

    Of all my businesses, this is the only one that got me on the cover of “Time.”

    1. TenaciousP:

      No one ought to question Tepper’s financial acumen. Based on the results of the Panthers during his 5-year ownership of the franchise, I think it is pretty easy to question his football acumen.

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