It wasn’t all that long ago when Carolina Panthers special teams coordinator Chris Tabor was an interim head coach for the Chicago Bears for one game — in 2021, Week 8, when Matt Nagy tested positive for COVID-19.
And even that wasn’t the first time.
“It happened a couple times,” Tabor said on Tuesday morning in the bowels of Bank of America Stadium. “In the spring, (Nagy) got COVID during OTAs, so I was responsible for the team during the week there. And then we played San Francisco around Halloween, I believe it was.”
Any lessons learned?
“Things that you learn, I mean, I have my special teams area now, and really, you just kind of expand everything,” Tabor said. “I have to oversee offensive and defensive game management. But those are things I’m already doing anyway. Just now I have to have a bit more of a peripheral view.”
This, in essence, is the view of Tabor, the new interim head coach of the league-worst 1-10 Panthers: He’s been here before — and he’s focused on “process.”
When asked if he’s been offered an assurance that he’ll have a legitimate chance at earning this job full time after the season, Tabor doubled down on that view: “I haven’t had that assurance. And to be honest with you, I’m working on today. That’s all I’m focused on.”
Tabor was promoted to interim head coach by Panthers owner David Tepper after the firing of head coach Frank Reich on Monday, just 12 weeks into what has been a moribund season for the Panthers. Success has followed Tabor everywhere he’s gone — though at the special teams level, not at the team level — and his new mission revolves around getting the Panthers back on track, whatever that means, however that looks.
His first move as coach was made immediately Monday: firing running backs coach Duce Staley and quarterbacks coach Josh McCown. Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, who will call the plays, will now lead the RBs, and Parks Frazier will stand in as QBs coach.
“Well first and foremost, I made those decisions, and as I mentioned earlier in my opening statement, coaching is about relationships,” Tabor said. “And I respect both those coaches as people and coaches, and I’m going to keep our talks in-house. Anything we do, we’re always trying to improve our team.”
You don’t have to look too far back in history to see how interims have fared in Carolina. Just last year, after the firing of Matt Rhule, Charlotte native Steve Wilks salvaged a difficult season and went 6-6 in the team’s final 12 games — putting the Panthers in playoff contention and earning rave reviews in-house for his leadership. (Wilks, to the dismay of several players and fans and even himself, didn’t shed his interim tag. He is now the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers.)
Tabor saw that season turn around. The 52-year-old coaching veteran was with Carolina when Wilks took over, and he learned a lot from that experience, he said.
“It still goes back to winning the day and winning the process,” he said of the last year experience. “Like I said earlier, I know it’s very coach-speak and those things, but I do believe that. Because in this business, the NFL train is always moving. The NFL monster will eat you at any time, and you need to be prepared and need to take the proper steps to set you up for success, and that’s what we’re trying to work on right now.”
The Panthers next face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, another visit to the recent past in a season soaked in the bitter deja vu that accompanies two head coach firings in two years and (almost certainly) another playoff-less season.
But Tabor isn’t worried about anything beyond the process of the present.
“Well I think everything that we’re always trying to do is put ourselves in a position to win games,” Tabor said. “And that’s what we’re working on. Really, what we’re doing right now, and I know it’s very cliche, is there’s a process. Today’s a Tuesday process, and we gotta win today to set us up for tomorrow. And if we can do those things, I always say it sets you up for success, and it gives you an opportunity for success on a Sunday.
“That’s what we’re trying to get done.”