New Panthers owner David Tepper comes from an organization that has had three head coaches in 49 years, and he won’t begin his Panthers tenure with any sweeping changes on the football side of the organization.
Tepper, who bought a five percent stake in his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009, might have tempered his praise of Panthers coach Ron Rivera and the front office during his press conference Tuesday — but only slightly.
“You actually have – you don’t want to give people too many compliments — but you’re actually blessed with a pretty good football side here,” Tepper said at Bank of America Stadium.
Tepper plans to hire a president to run the Panthers’ business operations — a position that has been vacant since Danny Morrison left abruptly in 2017. Tepper indicated he’s zeroing in on a couple of candidates for team president.
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But don’t expect him to shake things up — at least not in the short term — on a coaching staff that has been to the playoffs in four of the past five seasons.
“I’m not looking to do too much there. I think we’ve got some good folks there,” Tepper said. “I know people always want to hear things that are bad. They’re not bad. Sorry, can’t do it. It is what it is.”
Tepper called Rivera “a head coach that understands himself” and applauded his defensive acumen. Rivera was an NFL defensive coordinator with Chicago and San Diego before becoming the Panthers’ head coach in 2011.
Tepper also mentioned Panthers new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, a former NFL head coach, during his news conference. “I appreciate some of the changes that were made on that staff, in my view. …
I thought Norv is a pretty good addition on the offensive side,” he said. “I think Ron is a natural defensive guy, just a natural. Natural like walking down the street and drinking water, just natural.”
Rivera has only had a few brief meetings with Tepper, one of which came during Tepper’s visit to the stadium when he was considering buying the team.
Rivera made presentations to all three of the prospective buyers during their Charlotte visits, giving them an overview of his coaching philosophy, expectations and the team’s personnel.
“During that time he listened and asked questions — and asked good questions concerning personnel and stuff like that,” Rivera said of Tepper. “We didn’t touch the salary cap or anything like that. I just thought it went very well.”
During their follow-up meetings, Tepper told Rivera the importance he intends to place on team discipline and community involvement by Panthers’ players. “He’s really strong on that, which I thought was outstanding,” Rivera said during a phone interview with the Observer.
Tepper touched on that Tuesday, as well, saying the Panthers’ locker room is filled with “incredibly good guys” who are active in the community.
“Hopefully we get more involvement from them,” Tepper said. “But they’re already involved.”
Tepper and Rivera discussed analytics during their meetings, but did not delve too deeply into Xs-and-Os. Tepper was a visitor at Steelers’ practices after becoming a minority partner. “But he never talked about being involved with the team — the coaches’ and players’ aspect of it,” Rivera said.
Jerry Richardson gave contract extensions to Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney during his final months as the Panthers’ owner. Rivera and Hurney are both signed through the 2020 season.
Rivera has twice been named the NFL’s Coach of the Year, most recently following the Panthers’ Super Bowl run in 2015.
Rivera mentioned to Tepper that the Panthers have several franchise pillars at or nearing the end of their careers — a list that includes defensive end Julius Peppers, linebacker Thomas Davis and center Ryan Kalil.
“That’s pretty much what I was trying to get across — we’ve been able to do some pretty good things here. We’ve got some pretty good players in place,” Rivera said. “I did talk about obviously the age of a couple of our key players. And we’re going to be in that position where the next thing that’s going to happen is we’re going to have some transition, and transform who we are as a football team.”
Rivera will return from vacation next week and is looking forward to meeting with Tepper for a more in-depth conversation.
“The biggest thing for me will be getting an opportunity to sit down and hear his philosophy, his expectations, his directive on certain other things,” Rivera said. “Hopefully it’ll happen next week just before we get ready to go to camp.”