Tom Sorensen

Tom Talks: Panthers owner David Tepper should show patience with coach Ron Rivera

Panthers owner David Tepper’s team as lost four games in a row.
Panthers owner David Tepper’s team as lost four games in a row. AP

We don’t know what David Tepper thinks about the Carolina Panthers coaching staff. We don’t know if, after a four-game slump that includes losses to the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, coach Ron Rivera has to prove himself to save himself. We don’t know if the reports that Tepper has expressed frustration over the direction his team is heading are valid.

Before Tepper became the owner of the Panthers, he was a hedge fund hero. And if you look at his actions there, you perhaps can anticipate what he will do in the NFL.

I looked. I was over-matched (and a little bored). So I sought help from somebody learned in the ways of the hedge fund, accomplished and very bright.

Tepper, 61, isn’t what you’d call a daredevil. He doesn’t have to be. He is the smartest man in the room and probably the best informed. He doesn’t manufacture complications, doesn’t make a thing more complex than it is.

He might not be Riverboat Ron, but he does have some Dinghy Dave in him. He will buy distressed stock others won’t.

And what’s more distressed than a team that lost to the Lions?

Tepper does copious homework, the kid with the light shining in the corner of the library long after his peers have gone to sleep.

He is patient.

He’s confident, and obviously has earned the right to be. When Tepper is interviewed, smart people who do what he does tape the interview, play it back multiple times and take notes. In the sports writing business, some of us tape Panthers games.

Hey, give me your Tepper, and I’ll trade you two Tampa Bays.

On Nov. 8, Tepper brought his new team, Carolina, to Pittsburgh. Tepper grew up in Pittsburgh, went to school in Pittsburgh and once owned a piece of the Pittsburgh Steelers. This was Thursday night football; the Panthers still were good then. In the only NFL game played that night, Tepper’s old team hammered his new team 52-21.

When we go home, we like to show the folks how far we’ve come. If we compete with a former employer, we want to win. You know Tepper wanted to win.

Wonder if Carolina’s lopsided loss embarrassed him.

“I’ve never seen him embarrassed,” my financial friend says.

Just a guess. But if Tepper indeed is not given to overreaction, why would he fire Rivera?

In 2011, Rivera, 56, and quarterback Cam Newton made their Carolina debuts, Rivera as a first-time head coach and Newton as an NFL quarterback.

They inherited the worst team in the NFL, which is why they got the first draft choice, the choice that became Newton. Their first two seasons, they lost, going 6-10 and 7-9. They made the playoffs in four of the next five seasons, going into this one.

Part of the reason for the frustration of fans is inflation. When the Panthers were 6-2, many decided they were on their way to the Super Bowl, Newton was on his way to MVP, and why didn’t the evil national media spend more time chronicling the team’s inexorable march to greatness.

Come on. This team was never special.

In losses to Pittsburgh, Detroit (the worst of them), the Seattle Seahawks and Buccaneers, Carolina’s defense consistently let it down. We did not see a consistent pass rush until the second half of the loss to Tampa Bay. The Panthers defense played as if, while opponents huddled, it drew plays in the dirt with a stick.

I promise you players still believe in Rivera, and if Tepper is as pragmatic as he appears, so does he. Unless something startling happens these final next four games – a public falling out between Rivera and Newton, say – I think Rivera returns next season.

The roster will look different. The coaching staff will look different. The head coach will look the same.

Picking Falcons: Not a good idea

Make me stop picking the Atlanta Falcons. I’m in a pool, and before the season two of us draft four teams we think will win the Super Bowl. He picked New England first -- Rhode Island guy. I got the next two picks and picked New Orleans and Pittsburgh. With my third pick, I took Atlanta, and with my fourth I took Green Bay. I keep waiting for the Falcons to accede to their rightful place, as my failed Lock last week attests.

I shouldn’t require a 12-step group. Three steps should suffice.




Last Week: 9-7

Season: 118-72-2

Lock of the Week: ATLANTA (-1) 6 over Baltimore. Baltimore won by 10. I lost. Big.

Season Lock of the Week: 9-4.

This week’s picks, with the home team in CAPS:

TENNESSEE 7 over Jacksonville

New Orleans 9 over TAMPA BAY

New York Giants 2 over WASHINGTON

GREEN BAY 6 over Atlanta

HOUSTON 7 over Indianapolis

BUFFALO 6 over New York Jets

CLEVELAND 2 over Carolina

New England 7 over MIAMI

KANSAS CITY 7 over Baltimore

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS 14 over Cincinnati

Denver 6 over SAN FRANCISCO

DALLAS 1 over Philadelphia

Pittsburgh 4 over OAKLAND

Los Angeles Rams 2 over CHICAGO

SEATTLE 4 over Minnesota

Reluctant Lock of the week because the unforgiving schedule doesn’t offer any attractive Locks: ARIZONA (+2½) 6 over Detroit

Popeye was a hit

If you read my column, you know that I like boxing, and you know that I like underdogs. On Friday night, in an unusual fashion, they came together.

I’m at Centerstage@NODA, waiting for one of the boxing card’s main events. Fighters pick the music to which they’ll walk to the ring, and the choice is significant. This isn’t mere music. This is motivation, a statement. This is who I am. Suddenly, a beat thuds, a crowd chants, and a fighter emerges.

Richard Rivera, an undefeated light heavyweight from Hartford, Conn., leaves the dressing room, moves through the crowd and through the sound system blasts:

“I’m Popeye the Sailor Man

“I’m Popeye the Sailor Man

“I’m strong to the finish

“Cause I eats my spinach

“I’m Popeye the Sailor Man”

Rivera steps into the ring with a Popeye cap on his head and a corncob Popeye pipe between his teeth. Not only that, but he looks like Popeye. He doesn’t look like the mean Popeye who is going to whup Bluto. He looks like the nice Popeye who is about to call on Olive Oyl.

Rivera has the expression down. He has practiced. He looks like Popeye. He looks too happy to fight.

Rivera’s opponent, Joshua Robertson out of Lynchburg, Va., looks at Popeye and suddenly becomes Bluto, Popeye’s brutish arch-nemesis who originally was called Bluto the Terrible.

As Robertson becomes Robertson the Terrible, Rivera looks like playful Popeye. I’m looking for spinach but rarely is spinach sold at boxing matches.

Then the cap comes off, the pipe comes out, the bell rings and spinach will not be required. He throws off his Popeye stuff and starts throwing punches. Rivera lands big shots, combinations, and Robertson takes it all, goes down and gets up. Finally, in round six, Popeye prevails, and the fight is stopped.

This is one more reason to like boxing. The most famous attire in Charlotte is worn by Newton. Fans talk about Newton’s wardrobe all the time. I don’t get it, because I don’t really care how guys dress, but sure, fine.

If Newton wants to impress me, all he has to do, preferably after a victory, is show up for his postgame interview with a sailor’s cap on his head and a corncob pipe between his teeth.

There are lots of reasons to be moved by boxing. Boxers don’t belong to their high school boxing team or receive boxing scholarships to a state college (although I wish they did). They are the ultimate underdogs.

Most work other jobs to bring in money. Most practice in their spare time. Most work in the shadows. You don’t really know they’re there.

But on fight night, they get something most of us don’t. As they walk to the ring, they are cheered, no matter which song they play.

Limits needed for some fans, right?

I need your assistance on this one. If you buy a ticket to a sporting event, do you get to yell anything you want anytime you want at any athlete you want?

Think about it. You’re as safe in the bleachers as you are on social media, and social media is where you go because nobody knows your name. So, surrounded by other fans, you can scream insults at players, even question their moms.

No matter how extensively a team tries to keep the peace, it can’t really patrol the grandstands in search of insults. And if somebody does insult a player’s mom, should that be allowed, and if not, how would you punish the transgressor?

“Word police, word police, this is Security 1, we got a mom insulter in Section 4, seat 7. The man is not alone. Repeat, the man is not alone.”

“Security 1, security 1, you’re saying that the mom insulter is with friends?”

“We think he is with acquaintances. People that go to games and insult mothers of athletes do not have friends.”

“Roger that!”

The Los Angeles Clippers played the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas Sunday. Patrick Beverley, a point guard for the Clippers, is a hack. If he’s on your team, you like his tough style. If he’s on the other team, you want him kicked out of the sport.

In Dallas, there’s a front-row fan who likes attention. Beverley says the fan twice cursed his mom. Beverley says he told a referee. He says he alerted security. When nothing happened, Beverley threw a ball at the fan.

The fan says he talked about Beverley’s mom, but didn’t curse.

Beverley was ejected and fined $25,000.

What did the fan get?

TV time.

The arena, the field, and the ballpark are the places people with average size and athleticism can go to criticize guys who are bigger or more athletic or both. Some of insults are funny, as anybody who has watched Duke play at Cameron Indoor Stadium will attest.

Some are just nasty. -- personal, racist, you’ve heard them.

I would propose that if a fan goes too far, the athlete is entitled to respond.

For the mother sensitive among us, maybe we could enact a code of conduct that says: “If you criticize an athlete’s mother, he gets to throw something at you -- a ball or a left hook.”

The league wouldn’t go along with it. But the Player’s Association might.

Short takes: Wilder-Fury bout needs a rematch

▪ The Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury heavyweight title fight was odd, but interesting. It’s as if Wilder has never taken a boxing lesson. There are conventional means to deliver a punch, and Wilder refutes most of them.

But he has a huge right hand, big enough to knock down a 6-9, 256½-pound opponent. He had Fury out. Fury got up anyway. I thought Fury won too many rounds for the fight to be scored a draw. But the fight was scored a draw, and there will be a rematch.

You didn’t have to be a purist for this one. It was as if Wilder entered the ring through saloon doors. They fought. Fans will be back…

▪ Hate to see Carolina Panthers’ tight end Greg Olsen limp off, presumably into the sunset. He went on IR Wednesday, the culprit again his damaged right foot.

Olsen came to Carolina in 2011, the same season Rivera and Newton did. The Panthers traded to Chicago a third-round draft pick for Olsen. Be fair to say that the Panthers got the best of the deal.

Olsen was a big-time tight end in college at Miami, and why the Bears let him go was for the Panthers a pleasant mystery. Olsen stayed late after one of his early practices for Carolina and worked with the JUGS football machine.

There are different settings for the machine, and the Panthers set it to: Embarrass Greg Olsen.

Those footballs came out angry, flinging to the left, charging to the right, and straight on at his Olsen’s head. Olsen went Matrix on those balls, catching them easily and almost with disdain.

Olsen, 33, reminds me of Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis. They are players you want on your roster and in your locker room. They are people you want in your town…

▪ I always liked Lamar Jackson’s potential when he played for Louisville. I still do. He has lifted the Baltimore Ravens. Has he demonstrated that he can consistently beat NFL defenses with deep and intermediate passes? He has not. But if I’m the Ravens, I leave him in the starting lineup the rest of the season and give him an opportunity to show that he can. He wins...

▪ My goals are small. I will never pass a bell-ringing Santa without putting paper money in his pot. This is my third year doing this. So if you see me with a bulging wallet, it’s not what you think…

▪ The Charlotte 49ers’ search for a football coach has been interesting. They dangled it and withdrew it, and dangled it again. They did not do what most of us expected, grabbing a top assistant at a successful school.

Appalachian State’s Scott Satterfield was not a top assistant at a successful school. He was a successful coach at a successful school, and beyond Charlotte’s grasp.

What do we know about the coach they did hire, Will Healy of Austin Peay? He’s young, 33. He’s been a head coach three seasons. He wasn’t a favorite for the job. But the school’s instincts said, don’t do what’s safe. Hire this man.

We’ve seen underdog hires fail spectacularly (Charlotte basketball coach Alan Major). But if an athletic director believes he has found the right man to entrust his football program, do it. At some point, you shove the analytics aside, and go with your heart.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

More from this issue of the Tom Talks newsletter: