There was a buzz in the room at Bank of America Stadium on Tuesday as members of the media filled every seat. It was the buzz of anticipation, as always exists when a new coach takes the stage. The Frank Reich era kicked off with a video of the former quarterback showing off his new Carolina Panthers jersey back in 1995, when he threw the first touchdown pass in the organization’s history.
Now he’s part of another first for the team, as Panthers management is selling him as the first offensive-minded head coach in team history. During Tuesday’s press conference, Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer mentioned the advantages that brings along with it.
“When you have a head coach that is offensive and played the position, he knows looking through the lens of a quarterback what that looks like,” Fitterer said. “What processing looks like, how to call plays through that eye.”
That’s proven to be a winning formula as of late. All four teams to play in their respective league championship games last weekend were headed by offensive coaches.
Panthers owner David Tepper credited the fact that the league as a whole has been leaning more offensive in its rule-making in recent years.
“In NFL meetings, every year, they have some new rule to benefit the offense, every single year, and it’s never going to end,” he told reporters Tuesday. “The reason is scoring brings eyeballs. That’s what the league is about. I don’t know what they are yet, but the new rules will be offensive-minded rules.”
Tepper also tempered his optimism for the future by acknowledging regrets from the past on Tuesday — namely in regards to the last head coach he hired: Matt Rhule. Tepper admitted it was a mistake to hire “a CEO type of coach,” stating that he believes a team needs a coach that is either an expert on offense or an expert on defense.
“I could have run a better process last time. I could have done better,” he said. “This time we were very thorough. I was in every single interview. There were no firsts or seconds. Every single interview.”
As was to be expected, Tepper also faced questions about that process, or specifically his decision to pass over Steve Wilks, who served as interim head coach following Matt Rhule’s firing, going 6-6 and gaining the favor of many fans and players — former and current.
Some critics believed Wilks was possibly passed over due to his race. The NFL has long been dogged by its racial disparity at the head coach position, which led to the Rooney Rule being passed in 2003. Wilks himself sued the NFL for racial discrimination in 2018 after he was fired from the Arizona Cardinals following a single season.
Tepper acknowledged that the NFL ownership and management circles can often be an “old boy network,” and acknowledged that “most of the old boys are white,” before going on to emphasize the diversity that already exists within the Panthers organization.
“That should be your main goal, how do you break that old boys network? How do you break that process?” Tepper stated. “You break the process by trying to get the best people possible in every role you do. Who is that best person?”
According to Tepper, that person was Reich, who was fired from the Indianapolis Colts after a disappointing 3-5-1 start to the 2022 season.
Of course, Reich was the one everyone was there to see, and he did take to the stage to address the media — albeit with plenty of coach-speak, as coaches are wont to do. (He started with his four pillars to a successful team: ownership, players, coaches and fans.)
He continued with some of these bullet-point philosophies, including his three primary principles for players and five traits that he wants to define the Frank Reich-coached Panthers. Here’s a look at the latter:
- Accelerated vision. (You process what you are seeing so quickly, the game is slow to you.)
- Footwork. “Football is played from the ground up, so we want our team to be marked with good footwork.”
- Playmakers. “You’ve got to be able to make plays.”
- The “X Factor,” referring to “players who are great teammates, great leaders and love football.”
Eventually Reich moved away from the coach-speak and into specifics, getting into his thoughts on the offense for which he was hired.
“It’s a passing league, but you have to be able to run the ball to be a championship team,” Reich said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about this roster. I know we can do that. We’ll get the pass game right, but I know we can run the football. And we’re going to run the football because that just builds off the play-action, off the [run-pass option] stuff, all the movement stuff.”
“You have to get the ball vertical down the field. It’s hard to go 14-play drives all the time. You’ve got to get chunk plays down the field, so we need to be able to run the ball and have play-action off it. We have to have the kind of players and quarterback that can do that.”
Easier said than done. The Panthers have been plagued at the quarterback position since letting go of Cam Newton in 2020. They’ve started quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield (first overall pick, 2018) and Sam Darnold (third overall pick, same year), with disappointing results from each.
The Panthers have the 9th overall pick in the upcoming draft this spring, but with the quarterback position such a crapshoot, we asked Fitterer how he plans to avoid more of these disappointments.
“I think you have to have conviction if there’s a guy in this class you like,” he responded. “We’re in a position now where we have defense, we have an offensive line. We’ve built for this opportunity, so if you have conviction, go up and get him. If not, you don’t want to force it. You don’t want to take a player that’s not a really good player. That might set you back, but you can’t be afraid to take a shot if you believe that’s the guy.”
Reich said he prefers the type of quarterback who can run the ball as well as throw, as the league has changed from the typical pocket passer of the past, though Fitterer stressed that the draft isn’t the only place for the Panthers to find their guy.
“I don’t think you want to box yourself in and say you’re going to strictly draft [a quarterback],” the GM insisted. “I’ve always said that’s the proper way to do it, but if we don’t believe in that guy … We’ll look at all options, but in an ideal world, we would be drafting and developing.”
It’s been a tough few years for the Panthers, and Reich understands that fans are past the point of restlessness.
“We feel a sense of urgency to win right now, but we also need to understand there are no quick fixes. In today’s NFL, teams can flip the page very quickly. That will be our goal, but we’ll go about it doing it the right way starting at the foundation,” he said. “Every year we see teams going from big-time losing to big-time winning, even competing for championships, all in the space of one year. It’s possible.”
So he’s saying there’s a chance.
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