Frank Reich is gone, but the Panthers’ biggest problem is their owner

Frank Reich is gone, but the Panthers’ biggest problem is their owner

Frank Reich was supposed to turn the Panthers into a winner immediately. Now he’s gone after 11 games, earning the odious honor of having the worst coaching tenure in the history of the franchise.

On Monday morning the Carolina Panthers announced that Reich had been fired as head coach following a crushing loss to the Tennessee Titans, which might have been the Panthers’ last best chance to win another game in 2023.

The issue with Reich was largely the lack of performance on the field, but more-importantly the Panthers being devoid of any improvement during his tenure. One of the core reasons Reich was hired was a prevailing belief in him being a “quarterback whisperer,” who could get the most out of rookie Bryce Young, and set the No. 1 pick up for success. Instead a stagnant offense did nothing to help Young, as Reich ran rudimentary plays that seemed couched in old offensive thinking, rather than a dynamic modern offense.

After weeks of calls for Reich to turn over play calling he finally did, giving the reins to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown. This had mixed success, as Young had both his best and worst games, but Reich quickly took back control of the offense after three weeks, saying it gave the team the best chance to win.

“I’m in this position because of years of being a successful offensive coordinator and play caller. We have eight games left, and I just want to give my attention, and everything I can do and everything I can bring to bear to help the offense take a next step.”

Spoiler: It didn’t. With Reich back in control the team limped to two of its worst offensive performances back-to-back, managing only 187 total yards against the Cowboys in a blowout loss, followed by 258 yards against the Titans.

Young, the nexus of discussion regarding the Panthers offense, has been plagued by horrible receivers who have been unable to get separation, an offensive line struggling to block, and play calling that accentuates the worst aspects of his game without any room for improvisation. Now with Brown back to calling plays with Jim Caldwell as offensive advisor it opens up the door to at least see something different from the No. 1 pick.

Independent of Reich two huge issues remain for the Panthers:

  1. General manager Scott Fitterer, who has been abysmal in his role since joining the team in 2021
  2. Owner David Tepper, who the the architect of his mess

Tepper is the biggest piece in the puzzle when it comes to working out why the Panthers are so bad. He consistently, and pervasively demands immediate success — and when that doesn’t happen he’s quick to move on. Having that approach is damaging enough on its own, but especially bad when he is so intimately involved in the process of hiring coaches, and having a say in personnel decisions. The owner believes he knows how to build a team, but he doesn’t — as has been shown in his moves to hire Matt Rhule, and now David Tepper, along with a bad GM in Fitterer.

Alarmingly for Panthers fans is who Tepper has hand-picked as interim coach in Chris Tabor. The special teams coordinator is an expendable name to be thrown in for the final six games, and could foreshadow the team is preparing to make another splashy head coaching hire, with Jim Harbaugh naturally being on the NFL horizon.

Tepper removes the possibility of creating a head coaching debate by promoting Tabor to interim, as he faced in 2022 when he elected to hire Reich over continuing with Steve Wilks — who showed profound promise as he almost led the Panthers to the playoffs after Rhule was fired.

It leaves us with a complicated mess. Yes, the Panthers are better without Frank Reich — but he was far from the only, or biggest problem in this organization. The worst influence on the team is the owner himself, and he’s not going anywhere.

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