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Carolina Panthers: Frank Reich’s failure is also on David Tepper, Scott Fitterer

Frank Reich lasted just 11 games as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach.

The former Panthers quarterback, who was lauded for his play-calling prowess and supposed all-star coaching staff, never managed to put together a winning streak or guide first overall pick, quarterback Bryce Young, to pass 250 passing yards in a game. The Panthers never seemed to have answers to the most logical questions, and the team slumped to a 1-10 start before Reich was fired on Monday.

It’d be easy to simply throw the blame all on Reich’s shoulders. But that’s not the reality of this situation.

Everyone deserves blame. There isn’t a person at Bank of America Stadium who should feel fulfilled in what they are doing from a football standpoint 11 games into the season.

Let’s talk about it.

Updates and analysis on the Panthers on the "Processing Blue" podcast

Frank Reich’s short tenure is a failure everyone should own

This isn’t going to be a pile-on fest (or another week of analogies based on sci-fi films).

Reich’s 11 games as head coach were awful. He never won a game where he called plays, and his choice to retake play-calling out of desperation (or hubris?) two weeks ago was the ultimate nail in the inevitable coffin of his tenure.

Frankly, it’s fair to wonder if he would have made it past the home blowout loss against Dallas last week if it didn’t happen one day before owner David Tepper’s co-headed Bozeman’s Thanksgiving Bash.

Reich, inevitably, was not the right fit for the job. While he had the experience of being a head coach and a play-caller, his results in Indianapolis were mixed in a terrible division in which he failed to win a division title.

Reich was the exact opposite of his predecessor, Matt Rhule, so there was logic in hiring him, but process and practice are two different things. Sure, Reich was an NFL lifer and an experienced offensive play-caller, but that doesn’t mean that a new situation was suddenly going to make him the second-coming of Andy Reid. Retread success like that is rare, and Reich didn’t seem like a prime candidate for it.

The Panthers had a leadership committee that hosted interviews with a plethora of candidates, and Reich was a favorite target among most, if not all of the crew. They were wrong as a group and deserve criticism for choosing poorly, as Shane Steichen — who interviewed with the Panthers in January — leads the Indianapolis Colts to an impressive 6-5 record with a fill-in quarterback for the most of the season.

Reich’s offense ranked 30th in total yards and 29th in points per game and was tied for 29th in total offensive touchdowns. The first offensive-minded head coach in Panthers history couldn’t aid Young in his efforts to lead the team on more than two scoring drives on a weekly basis.

But again, this is a concoction of failure, not just a sole burden to take on for Reich. He’s not Urban Meyer, who managed to coach just 13 games in Jacksonville after losing the locker room and having several cringe-worthy moments along the way.

Reich wasn’t set up well. The debate over final say is trite and, frankly, unimportant. The Panthers’ leadership group overestimated the offensive line and the new and supposedly improved coaching staff, and surrounded Young and Reich with a group of offensive weapons who regressed the moment they arrived at the facility.

The Panthers are a terrible team right now, and Reich was only part of the recipe. Just ask former running backs/assistant head coach Duce Staley and quarterbacks coach Josh McCown, who were also fired Monday.

The front office shouldn’t breathe easy, either

Outside of the signing of Adam Thielen, can you name one offseason move that has undeniably worked out for the Panthers? Go on, I dare ya ... fill up that comment section on the website.

Pretty tough, huh?

Well, that falls on the front office, regardless of who wants to claim final say. And that’s why no one should feel safe at the Panthers facility this week, especially general manager Scott Fitterer.

I’ve said before that firing a GM midseason does little to nothing to impact the product — and that’s still true — but the offseason is just six games away and the NFL hasn’t had a one-win season since the 17-game format was introduced in 2021. If the Panthers “make history,” it’s hard to imagine many people keeping their jobs, let alone the top exec, who refused to separate himself from the Rhule era when given the chance earlier this year.

Re-signing center Bradley Bozeman has looked awful in hindsight when considering the zone-heavy blocking scheme. Running back Miles Sanders and wideout DJ Chark were favorites of the coaching staff who have fallen into the background due to poor performance. Hayden Hurst is a complete non-factor when healthy. But hey, Andy Dalton looked pretty good in his lone start, right?

Anyway, beyond the free-agency fodder, the Panthers’ 2023 draft class has somehow been worse. Sure, it’s early, they’re rookies and I guess things could ultimately turn around, but the early returns have been puzzling to say the least.

Young doesn’t have much around him, but he has underwhelmed for a variety of reasons, a lot of which are out of his control. Day 2 picks, wideout Jonathan Mingo and pass rusher DJ Johnson, were seemingly over-drafted at the time, but now look underdeveloped, too. When guard Chandler Zavala hasn’t been injured, he’s struggled mightily, and Jammie Robinson hasn’t been able to claim a steady role despite his versatility.

Again, Reich wasn’t set up well to succeed with this roster, and Tepper needs to realize that his involvement — such as taking draft advice from former Panthers players — might not be the soundest strategy for success. Fitterer’s fate could be part of Tepper’s self-evaluation.

David Tepper wants to win ... he just doesn’t know how to

There’s this weird (and loud) perception among a sector of the fan base that Tepper doesn’t want to win games and make the Panthers a championship product.

Respectfully, that idea is lunacy and utter garbage.

Tepper wants to win. He wouldn’t fire coaches at a moment’s notice if he didn’t have that desire.

The problem is that he doesn’t know how to win, and he still seemingly chooses to involve himself in areas of the team’s operations where he doesn’t have an expertise.

It’s his football team, and he can do whatever he chooses, but as my colleague, Scott Fowler, opined on Monday, maybe he should take a seat when it comes to gridiron management.

Carolina Panthers team owner David Tepper, left, greets new head coach Frank Reich, right, during Reich’s introductory press conference at Bank of America Stadium on Tuesday, January 31, 2023. JEFF SINER/jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Carolina Panthers team owner David Tepper, left, greets new head coach Frank Reich, right, during Reich’s introductory press conference at Bank of America Stadium on Tuesday, January 31, 2023. JEFF SINER/jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

I didn’t have a problem with Tepper’s notable role in the head coach search. I didn’t care about his well-publicized involvement in the quarterback search, either. He’s not the first or last owner to do those things. And honestly, as a very successful businessman, his input on hiring CEO-type roles is probably to the organization’s benefit, if only from a synergy aspect.

But my issue with Tepper’s involvement comes from the apparent need to oversee football operations above those who actually oversee football.

I’m a beat writer, I’m not Pete Carroll or DeMeco Ryans — so I’m aware that while I know a lot about football, the salary cap and roster management from years of doing this job, I’m not a universally accepted brilliant football mind. It’s not my job to sign veteran players or draft notable prospects, but that shouldn’t be Tepper’s gig, either.

Tepper needs an advisor who can tell him “no” and still keep his job. Until the Panthers operate like a football franchise, the constant state of flux and failure will likely continue.

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” It’s a matter of whether someone is brave enough to say it or be told so that matters. Once that can be accepted, folks can do the jobs they were hired for and the owner can, eventually, reap the rewards.