CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Despite hiring Frank Reich in place of Steve Wilkes as the team’s sixth head coach, Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper insisted Tuesday that he is doing what he can to dismantle the NFL’s “network of big boys.”
The old boys network of white owners has a history of not placing minority candidates in positions of power, particularly in relation to head coaches.
There are currently only three black coaches, Todd Bowles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Mike McDaniel of the Miami Dolphins.
The Panthers hired Reich, who is white, over Wilkes, who is black. Tepper insisted that race had nothing to do with the decision.
He pointed to his executive team, which includes: his wife, Nicole, the chief administrative officer; Kristi Coleman, Chief Administrative Officer; Keisha Smith, a black woman who is a senior vice president who oversees human resources; and Tanya Taylor, the general counsel who is a black woman.
“We probably have the most diverse executive team in the NFL right now,” Tepper said. “We’re probably in the minority of white men on our executive team right now. That’s where it starts. This is America.”
How do you break that network of big boys? How do you break that process? You break the process by trying to get the best people you can into every role you can take on. [general counsel] We hired, who just so happens to be an African American woman. Both happen to be Frank Reich, a Caucasian guy. ”
Tipper insisted the decision to hire Reich, 61, had more to do with his offensive background. Find training supported it. Seven of the nine candidates have an offensive background and all but Jim Caldwell have been white.
The two defensive-minded coaches were lions.
“Every year we go to NFL meetings,” Tepper said, “and every year they make some new rules in favor of the offense… every year. And it never ends. It never ends.”
“And the reason for that is, scoring brings in the eyeballs. That’s what the league is about, getting the eyeballs in the eye. So, I can tell you again, the new rules are going to be offensive rules. So, you have that challenge, first.”
Reich is the first offensive coach hired in team history, which began in 1995 when Reich was the expansion franchise’s quarterback for the first three games.
Tepper never addressed whether the defensive-minded Wilkes had a legitimate shot at the job because of the direction of the search. Wilkes led Carolina to a 6-6 finish after firing Matt Rowley after a 1-4 start.
But general manager Scott Vetterer did.
He had a legitimate shot. He did a good job leading this team. He’s a great guy,” said Vetterer.
What separated Reich from Wilkes and the other candidates, Vetterer said, was the interview process when he was “approached” with his plan and second-tier thinking.
He also admitted that it would be best to hire an offensive coach in the NFL today.
He said, “If you want to attack, there are some advantages to that. And there are advantages to playing aggressively on the attacking side of the ball. … I saw that last weekend [in the NFC and AFC Championship Games where all four head coaches were offensive minded]. ”
The law firm representing Steve Wilkes in his discrimination lawsuit against the league after he was fired as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals after one season (2018) saw things differently. The company issued a statement saying it was “shocked and upset” by Karolina’s decision to hire Reich over Wilkes.
“There is a legitimate racial issue in the NFL, and we can assure you we’ll have more to say in the coming days,” the company said Thursday after Reich’s hiring.
Reich kept his press conference focused on the challenge he faces in taking over a team that has gone 29-53 since Tipper purchased the organization in 2018.
He did not commit to calling the plays, saying that the trend in the NFL was away from the coach doing so. He said it depends on the attack coordinator.
“Obviously I’ve always enjoyed doing it and I feel like I’ve had quite a bit of success doing it,” he said.
One of Reich’s first jobs, outside of recruiting personnel, would be to find a starting quarterback. The Panthers have had five different players since 2020. Reich had seven different players in four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts before being fired in November.
Reich is grateful for another opportunity so soon after his dismissal.
He said, “It’s a passing league, but you have to be able to run the ball to be a championship team. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about this roster. I know we can do it. We’re going to get the passing right, but I know we can run the football.”