Dave Tepper isn’t used to losing.
He’s a billionaire many times over due to extremely sharp investing. Before buying the Carolina Panthers, he was a minority owner of the six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
But Tepper had a losing year in his rookie season as the Panthers owner, as his team lost seven of its last eight games to finish 7-9.
He didn’t like it, of course. I continue to be impressed, though, with the way Tepper has shown a fair amount of both transparency and patience as Carolina’s owner.
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Here are five things I thought were interesting about Tepper’s 34-minute press conference with select Charlotte-area print and online media Tuesday:
1. Tepper continues to be a straight shooter.
Check out these two quotes:
Tepper on the fact that the Panthers have never had an indoor facility and sometimes have to work out at the Charlotte Convention Center in dire weather: “When you have to practice in a ballroom, that’s crazy to me.”
Tepper on Carolina’s defensive struggles in 2018: “We probably should have done some things earlier on defense when it appeared that we had some problems. And some of those problems were probably coach-related problems, and changes were made (with head coach Ron Rivera assuming defensive play-calling responsibilities over defensive coordinator Eric Washington). Now they could have been made earlier. We didn’t make them earlier.”
Tepper also said the Panthers defense got “older, faster” than he thought it would and that he was involved in the discussions to make sure that Rivera “kept his hands on the reins again” as far as defensive play-calling in 2019.
2. Tepper wasn’t a big fan of the Panthers’ offensive line.
“Listen, the offensive line looked like a disaster,” Tepper said of the injury-ravaged unit protecting Cam Newton. “You have to give (running game coordinator John) Matsko credit. … It (the offensive line) was as good as it possibly could be.”
3. Tepper worries about Newton’s shoulder.
Most Panthers fan share that worry, of course. The owner also said he believes that if Newton had to sit out an entire season like Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck did for his own injured shoulder that it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Said Tepper of his own franchise quarterback: “If you told me that he took a year off and could recover … and it took an extra year, why wouldn’t you do that? Now we would have to do other things, right? We’d have to go out and get another quarterback then. Which, if you can find me some more cap space, I’d appreciate it.”
Tepper also said he continues to hope that “Cam’s shoulder is fantastic and we’re hunky-dory” but also noted that “there’s no certainty in life.”
4. Tepper is moving fast on Panthers practice facilities.
He’s doing so because the facilities were “just not up to the standard of the rest of the league,” Tepper said. A bubble over at least one existing practice field should be completed before September. The players’ cafeteria will be doubled in size, in part by removing some of Tepper’s parking spaces.
The Panthers will continue to hold training camp in Spartanburg in 2019, but it sure sounds like after that the Panthers will be in a combined practice/training facility (near Carowinds would seem the most likely choice). Tepper also remains a big advocate of bringing a major-league soccer team to Charlotte. But he was coy on whether he eventually wants a new stadium to replace Bank of America — or simply to make more renovations. Tepper said that is still being investigated.
5. The owner isn’t afraid to stoke the flames of a rivalry.
Tepper obviously took a little joy in Carolina’s season-finale victory at New Orleans, where the Saints didn’t play stars Drew Brees or Alvin Kamara but did play their first-string defense for a good deal of the game in the Panthers’ 33-14 win.
“I heard tell that the yelling in the (Saints’) halftime locker room could be heard around the whole stadium in that New Orleans game,” Tepper said. Later, he added: “And if you were in New Orleans the next day, they were killing them (the Saints) in the paper.”
Of course, some Panthers fans would argue it would have been far better for the Panthers to have lost that game, because then they would be drafting closer to No. 8 or No. 9 rather than their current No. 16 in the first round.
Not Tepper, though. He wants to win, in both the short- and long-term.
Said the owner: “What you want to build here is a long-term winning culture on the football side. … You may have to sacrifice some things for a long-term winning program.”
The Panthers famously have never strung together two winning seasons in a row, despite starting their 25th season in 2019.
Tepper sounds very much like a man who wants to change that quickly. And if it doesn’t start next season, I think his patience will wear out very quickly. And heads will roll.