David Tepper

Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Tepper: It Was Time

Brett Jensen
December 03, 2019 - 9:38 pm

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If you know nothing about David Tepper’s past, now this: He’s extremely competitive. He hates to lose in life and in business. That’s how he became the wealthiest owner in the NFL.  

And because of that internal drive, and because he respects and truly likes Ron Rivera, the owner of Carolina Panthers announced Tuesday he fired his head coach instead of waiting until the end of the season.

“I was informed of other teams that were doing different types of (coaching) searches out there and I’m not going to start a search and not tell Ron Rivera I’m starting a search. He’s too good of a man,” Tepper told select media Tuesday night. “I have great respect for Ron. He’s a great human being. I’m not going to disrespect anybody like that, especially a man like Ron Rivera. …

“Why couldn’t I wait until the end of the season? I don’t want to be a competitive disadvantage. If I wanted to go out and talk to other people and do it behind Ron’s back … I won’t do that. I will never do that. I don’t care if other people do that in this sport, that’s not what I’m going to do. Ever. …

“I think long term, it was time. To bring the organization to the next level, it’s something that had to be done. I rather would have waited until the end of the year, but I’m never going to let this team be at a competitive disadvantage if I can help myself and I’m going to do it on my terms. I’m not going to do it”

Gaston County native Perry Fewell, who served as the secondary coach, will take over the head coaching duties.

Rivera finishes his eight-plus seasons at Carolina with a trip to the Super Bowl, twice named the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year and with 78 wins, which ties him with previous coach John Fox for the most wins in franchise history. Rivera has the highest winning percentage of any Panthers coach at .557 when playoffs are included.

All of that and Rivera’s demeanor made this an extremely difficult thing for Tepper to do. In fact, when talking about his conversation with Rivera about the firing, Tepper got choked up and held back tears.

“That was an emotional conversation for me,” he said. “I like Ron Rivera. I consider him a friend. It was an honest conversation and pretty much what I told you all in this room. I wanted to tell him this is what’s going on: I want to make this change. I would have hoped to wait until the end of the year. I don’t want to go and start doing searches beforehand and I can’t be put at a competitive disadvantage. I have great regard for Ron Rivera. He’s one of the finest guys in this game, period. …

“For the fans out there that love the Riveras, I’m there, too.”

When Tepper bought the team two years ago, he said he had to completely overhaul the business side of the franchise because it was in disarray. He said it’s time to fix the football side of things.

Two weeks ago, Tepper said he will not stand for mediocrity, which the Panthers have been for 25 years. They have almost the exact same amount in wins and losses and have never had back-to-back winning seasons.

“There’s a history in the building and I think that we needed to do something fresh to just change (the football) side (of the franchise),” Tepper said Tuesday night. “Sometimes you just have to bring in fresh blood to change a culture because it can’t be done otherwise.”

Tepper warned fans not to expect an immediate turnaround. He believes it could take a few years before the team reaches the level that he wants and expects.

“Do you think I can promise to anybody that things are going to be great in one year?” Tepper rhetorically asked. “Do you believe in the Tooth Fairy? Do you believe in Santa Claus? Which guy do you like? If you don’t think it takes time to build something great, if you think something great gets build in one second, then that’s wrong. You shouldn’t expect it. Fans shouldn’t expect it.

“I’m not talking about one year. I’m talking about a standard that will be built and sustained – built and sustained. If the fans are expecting something to be miraculous next year, it could happen, but you can’t count on that. There has to be a degree of patience to build sustained excellence. …

“Do you think people want to wait five years for sustained excellence for 20 years? They better. You’re not going to get immediate gratification. It may come, it may not come. We’ll see how fast things can do. I’m not going to sit here and BS people. It’s a building process. You’ve heard about Rome, right?”

The next head coach of the Panthers will likely be an offensive-minded coach, like an offensive coordinator on another NFL team. It’s also unlikely that someone from college with no NFL experience will get the job.

And Tepper said while he doesn’t want a parade of coaches every few years, he’s also not afraid to admit when things are wrong and move to correct them.

“I’m going to try to do new things to make it the best organization possible,” he said. “And if it’s not right, we’ll fix it. We’ll try something else. That’s not going to be done in a second. If you think it’s going to be done that fast, it’s not. To get the right coaches, to get the right head coach. I want to make sure we have a really good process to do that because I don’t want to go through a revolving door of coaches because that’s not anything I’m familiar with.

“Without shaking the tree, you can’t get any apples.”

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