In a dispute with a living situation I once encountered, I learned a valuable lesson. This place can either be my house or our house. But it cannot be your house alone. That is the message the Carolina community needs to send to team owner David Tepper. His name is on the contracts and paychecks. But the Carolina name is on the team. David Tepper is trying to transform the Carolina Panthers into the future the NFL wants to see. This team is the Carolina Panthers and not the Nationalist Panthers. This team’s legacy relies on the power of two critical positions. They are running backs and linebackers. This is a hit-hard, keep pounding, mighty midget football team that is empowered by a community of hammers. These are underdogs representing a blue-collar culture of Ivy League potential. When that has been instilled into the team for over twenty years, the character has to be not just accepted. We have to embrace it and love that part of the team as fans.
It is okay to have bad seasons. They are coming. But it is not okay to quit in the middle of opportunities. The Panthers fans will keep coming as long as the teams keeps pounding. Firing coaches midseason is "keep pouting"; not "Keep Pounding".
The day has arrived when it no longer is acceptable to take the most qualified candidate in the room for the sake of quality. David Tepper should not be looking for a head coach for the Panthers or for the players any longer. It is time to look for a Carolina head coach. To return the fans to the stadium and create an atmosphere of winning, David Tepper has to show that this is for the Carolinas and not for himself.
Have the Panthers as a team been this bad? Yes. We have and we have recovered. I do not know if the Panthers are as bad as the 2001 team. That is a stretch to claim the 2001 Panthers were as bad as the Panthers are 22 years later. But the current team is not quite as bad as the 2010 team. Those guys lost their minds. Injuries did not help. They could not win a single division game. To this day, it is convincing the Panthers were openly trying to lose on purpose. This Carolina Panthers team actually seems to want to win but does not believe in everybody in the room. It seems like some people are selective about who to trust in the office these days. And nobody seems to trust David Tepper.
The problem is psychological. Therefore, the solution needs to be psychological. A powerful transformation of history and culture can produce the enthusiasm necessary to get the team in the right direction again.
There are limited options in transforming the franchise into anything spectacular. The next head coach has to have dictatorship power. Anything Tepper can do to take the attention off himself will be a positive move. We may not like the sound of a head coaching dictatorship. But it beats the dictator that is reckless in pieces currently. The fans, players, and coaching staff need to know there is trust, hope, and power in the security of the future. They also need to think creatively about the future and now just hope for the best they have got. Tepper needs to take a big risk.
The head coach needs to be the face of the franchise. The head coach needs to be a standing, running, commanding definition of the phrase the statue-faced Mills repeated several years ago crawling out of the dark days of a historical failure for the franchise. The Carolina Panthers do have a culture. They are the Cardiac Cats. They are Keep Pounding. In that culture, the Carolina Panthers soared at two key positions: linebacker and running backs.
This may be the most ridiculous coaching candidate list you will ever read. But ridiculous is important anyway. The reason for this list is to come up with anything that is so crazy it finally might work. Here are some possible culture changing options that can be considered a hit as a head coach for the Panthers.
1. Steve Wilks How anyone except Coach Wilks is considered an option for the team is almost baffling. We know it was a mistake to lose him. We know what he means to the Carolinas. We know what he can do. He established a powerful rushing attack without McCafferey. In fact, without CMac, the Panthers were even running the football in 2022 better than they ran with the future hall of famer. Hiring Wilks would display a sense of loyalty and humility needed for once from the franchise owner. Wilks will have the Panthers defense return to the glory days. The secondary will return to greatness. Some of the players will want to work for the man. He is now known throughout the NFL. It is a longshot to grab him. So Tepper will have to pay some big cash and more. When Wilks left, he took the high road where the team was stampeded. The only non-former-player on this list, Wilks is a necessary choice.
2. Ray Lewis As was stated before, the Carolina Panthers are a linebacker team. In 2015, Lewis understood the Carolina Panthers’ success better than anyone in the national media. He talked about the brotherhood and complimented Thomas Davis for playing old school. He said that was the way it was meant to be played. He will make the team play and he will make them hit. When the rest of the league is trying to throw the football, the Panthers will be coming for them. He may need to assume the role only as a motivator and intimidator for the opposition while his staff goes to work. Ray Lewis may or may not be a chess player. But he will be a quote maker. And he will be a work maker.
3. Ricky Proehl This one seems crazy. But consider the receivers he helped and how well he did with them. Ricky was more than a former player. He was a phenomenal wide receivers coach that was important to that 2015 team in more ways than we can ever appreciate. His career in Carolina was even more unappreciated as a coach than he was as a receiver. He was part of the Cardiac Cats and was part of the 2015 team, both in underappreciated roles. I know bringing the Wake Forest star will be a longshot and the chances of his success as an underqualified head coach are even longer. But he does have respect and character. Ricky is confident but a class act. He is the underdog that is easy to like.
4. Thomas Davis If anyone in the history of the Carolinas understands what it means to be a Panther, it is the gentleman himself, Thomas Davis. He served his time in Carolina by being the image of greatness in the shadow of Sam Mills and emulating what Jerry Richardson was hoping he could be remembered to be. Thomas Davis is almost as much an illusion as he is a legend. But his cool face alone is enough to gain the respect necessary to keep his men going even if all hope seems lost. The man will yell when necessary. He will keep his cool with the media. He will be humble but strong with the team. When the team is at work, he will make them work hard.
5. Greg Olsen As the inspiration behind this ridiculous message, it would be wrong to exclude Greg Olsen, who expressed interest in the job. We know he knows football. He loves the Panthers. He is respectable. Greg Olsen and Steve Smith are in a weird position in NFL History in that they are almost Hall of Famers but need just a little tap more to get the notoriety necessary to escalate that resume enough for the selection. Even though Olsen is well-respected as an announcer, his statistics are not well-known enough to appreciate his dominion. To Panthers fans, Olsen is more of a face than a leader. But that may be what makes him so good. He is easy to underrate. He clearly holds a special place in his heart for the team. He was there transforming the team with Cam and the others. In the future, Bryce Young will probably need to depend on the position of tight end the most. With his style of play and the accuracy he has, a great tight end coached by a guy like Olsen could go a long way.
6. Steve Smith Smitty is a franchise dog that has been through the best and worst with the Panthers, except the 2015 Panthers. He has a way of keeping himself relevant. He knows how to say the right things to get into guys’ heads. Steve Smith would not be an easy coach to have. But he would be real. He would be too honest about his team and the position to move everybody. Smith would do his due diligence, as he says. He would present a fierce presence and be a fun source of entertainment. Smith as a head coach seems like he would be one of the old school coaches that just says whatever comes to mind, understanding fully the consequences of his voice and trusting the reward he expects from what he says and does.
7-10. DeAngelo/Jonathan Stewart/Mike Tolbert/Brad Hoover Not only do the Carolina Panthers have a great history with running backs/fullbacks. They all spent several years with the team working personally with Assistant Head Coach Jim Skipper. These guys were part of the culture in Carolina’s transitions from good, bad, and ugly. The only one who was not on the 2010 team was Tolbert. Davis and Stewart were special members of the franchise for several years, helping to extend their own careers by splitting time together. Is there something they could have learned to help them if they became head coaches? Hoover and Tolbert were college stars in the Carolinas themselves before joining the Panthers. The running back position has been a staple that opened chances for quarterbacks Cam Newton and Jake Delhomme. If the Panthers can return to the days of running the ball effectively, Bryce can be elite as a passer with the need to respect the ground game again.
12. Keep What We’ve Got The Panthers are in need of an expression of loyalty, which really is what most of this list is trying to express. Now why would we keep what we got if there is so much failure? It expresses loyalty. Also, the coaching staff was bound to struggle with so many big egos and important figures in the room capable of excellence. That being said, it does not mean the coaching staff should struggle for too much longer. When several people are involved, growth is slow. But once that growth happens, it is much more stable in the long run. The Panthers are grounded because they are just setting a foundation for the future of the team. There truly are some brilliant minds in the office. But it will take a long time for the hard work to produce fruition. This is not what we want to hear as fans or what the impatient Tepper wants to hear. But we do have something that could become great if given enough respect and patience.