I didn’t get a chance to ask a question of Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper on Tuesday, as he and his PR folks froze me out of his 14-minute news conference.
The question that I planned to ask? I’m going to put it in this column instead.
First, though, let’s analyze one of the more remarkable things Tepper did say in the news conference, which came the day after Tepper fired head coach Frank Reich — the third Panthers head coach the owner has fired in midseason since he bought the team in 2018.
“I do have patience,” Tepper insisted. He then added: “My reputation away from this game is one of extreme patience.”
Oh, really? Ron Rivera, Matt Rhule, Frank Reich and former Charlotte FC head coaches Miguel Angel Ramirez and Christian Lattanzio might beg to differ. All of them have been fired by Tepper since December 2019, and all of them except Lattanzio got fired in the middle of a season.
There’s a common denominator here, and it’s not those five coaches.
I wrote Monday that Tepper should fire himself — not necessarily implying he should sell the Panthers and Charlotte FC, but meaning he should remove himself from much more of the football-related decision-making.
Sign the checks, stay away from the football operations and concentrate on the business side, which after all is Tepper’s specialty. Just for one year. See how it works. It could hardly be any worse.
Back to Tuesday’s press conference. I sat in the front row and waved my hand as wildly as a fourth-grader who knew the answer and was desperate to get called on by the teacher.
Here is one run-on sentence about why I thought I would get a single question in:
I’ve covered the Panthers for The Charlotte Observer on a daily basis since the team’s inception in 1995, and when Reich wanted to speak out to one journalist after getting fired Monday he chose me to do the interview, and in 29 Panthers seasons of coverage I’ve never been shut out of asking at least one question during a Panthers press conference. Not once.
None of that mattered.
I'm very unhappy w/ the Panthers for getting frozen out of asking a question at the David Tepper press conference.
Sat in front row; raised hand high; wasn't called on; protested to no avail.
Felt like it was purposeful.
Posting yesterday's column here️https://t.co/trLGY9y9Zk
— Scott Fowler (@scott_fowler) November 28, 2023
The Panthers tried hard and successfully to ignore me, letting eight other media members ask one question apiece instead during a truncated press conference.
The question I wanted to ask
Dan Patrick asked me later Tuesday on his national radio show what question I had wanted to ask Tepper. I said it then and will say it here.
It’s important to note that Tepper had mentioned that the Panthers were going to “self-reflect” as they tried to hire the right coach this time, and finally get better. The Panthers have had six straight losing seasons and a 30-63 overall record under Tepper’s ownership, including a 1-10 start this year.
The question I never got to ask was:
Speaking of self-reflection: I wonder how much blame you take for what’s gone wrong here since you bought the team. You’ve fired three NFL head coaches in midseason. You’re now on your third interim head coach.
Do you ever look in a mirror and say, “Is it me?”
Patrick heard that, chuckled and said the Panthers were wise not to call on me. But I do think Tepper owes Carolina fans an answer to that.
And that’s all we are as journalists — stand-ins for the fans, who buy the tickets and the online Charlotte Observer subscriptions and the Bryce Young jerseys and everything else. Snub us and you’re just snubbing the fans.
Tepper did reference his responsibility as the team owner at one point, saying “the buck stops here” and adding: “Whatever is good, bad or indifferent. ... I take full responsibility for everything.”
Still, I feel a little sorry for Chris Tabor, who is interim coach No. 3 and head coach No. 6 under Tepper. He’s going to get to coach six NFL games, with a roster worse than almost any other team he plays. And then he’s going to go somewhere between 0-6 and 2-4, and quickly give up that chair to head coach No. 7 in January.
Tepper wants to win, but this isn’t the right way
Look, other than the billionaire part, Tepper isn’t Montgomery Burns, the villain on “The Simpsons.” He doesn’t spend his days steepling his fingers and purring “Ex-cell-ent” every time misfortune befalls our fair city.
Tepper is blunt, charismatic, monstrously successful in the financial world and wants to win very badly. He isn’t cheap. He’s engaging in person. I truly believe he will spend whatever it takes to win; he just doesn’t spend it correctly. He’s messed up the Panthers’ on-field product. Big-time. The numbers don’t lie.
But hey, thanks for all those concerts! And it was fun when Messi showed up!
As fans who follow this stuff a little too closely know, Tepper and I do have a history. We had an awkward exchange at the end of his “I just fired Matt Rhule” press conference in October 2022. I asked when exactly he had decided to fire Rhule, and he said I should “know better” than to ask that question and it deteriorated a little bit from there.
It really wasn’t much. Tepper said at one point: “I can go back to your columns and regurgitate them. So you can read your own columns, okay, for that answer.”
I didn’t take offense then. Hey, at least he’s reading The Observer. The TV cameras made it seem more awkward than it really was, and at least I had gotten to ask my question.
But I do take offense now.
What happened Tuesday was the Panthers burying their head in the sand like ostriches, trying to feed fans a bunch of platitudes and shutting things down when it got a little uncomfortable. (While walking off-stage, Tepper also ignored a question from another reporter about the status of embattled general manager Scott Fitterer).
Ultimately I’m going to chalk Tuesday up as the latest in yet another round of inTeptitude.
Rock Hill, Eastland, former Panthers employees, current Panthers fans — you know what I mean.
InTeptitude is my new word for when Tepper does something inept.
I’m sure there will be plenty more chances to use it.