Panthers owner David Tepper has a vision.
It began with the team’s business operations, and started on the football side in January with the hiring of new coach Matt Rhule.
It is continuing now with Monday’s announcement that the team has parted ways with general manager Marty Hurney.
But before it’s over, Tepper may have to knock down a few walls.
The Panthers owner spoke of building a “collaborative” and data-driven football operation, one that involves more analytics and computerized scouting, but not one that ignores his admitted fondness for “old school” football.
Tepper’s not just looking for a new GM. He’s looking for a way to build an entire football operation for years to come, to be something the Panthers have not been. In 26 years, they’re 199-214-1, and Tepper’s trying to steer them beyond the middle of the road.
“I’m trying to figure out what should be the right structure for an organization today,” he said. “Just because there’s been the same structure in the NFL forever in a lot of places doesn’t mean it should be the same structure now.”
Tepper talked about the football operation the way he reimagined the team’s business operations upon purchasing the team in 2018. He spoke theoretically about a day when offices on the second floor of Bank of America Stadium were rearranged to keep key decision-makers in places where they’re more accessible to the entire operation, to prevent “siloed” thinking.
While he was more creating a philosophy than announcing renovation plans, he talked about a day when his office, the chief financial officer’s, the team president’s, the coach’s, and the GM’s were close enough together to create a different kind of communication throughout the business model.
“Five offices, so everybody has to go through that area, so we have better integration through the whole organization,” he said. “So there’s just a lot of things I may want to change at this point in time. . . .
“Absolutely you have the GM evaluating player personnel and involved collaboratively with the head coach and also with some input going both ways between coach and GM. I want input running freely throughout the organization with people working together.”
Tepper covered a number of other topics in a conversation about his decision to part with Hurney.
Q: Could you walk through the process of the decision?
Tepper: “It’s been an evolving decision. Basically, it wasn’t just me on a whim. I’ve been thinking about it over the last, … how generally speaking the scouting department should be structured and what should be there, the GM office in general.
“Basically, with discussions, it seemed like Marty and I had a little bit of difference in philosophy. He leaned toward more traditional techniques versus a more data-driven, analytical process, but I think some marrying of that would be more in line.”
Q: What should the football operation look like, and were there things that Hurney was resistant to?
Tepper: “It’s not about what Marty was resistant to. I think we just need more analytical data-driven evaluation.”
Q: What changes are you trying to implement on the football side as part of this move?
Tepper: “The Panthers in what was there and how it was structured was very siloed. Things were kept separate all over this organization and I don’t like that.
“I like one organization, one goal moving together from football, so the business side and the football is all moving together. There are still some vestiges of that, … nothing to do with Marty, that were leftover from (Jerry) Richardson.
“And this is an opportunity to change some of those things, to try to figure out how to organize the business.”
Q: Are you concerned about the perception that Rhule is in charge of things now?
Tepper: “Matt Rhule does not want to run that show. He has a lot to do with running the football team and doing what he does. I don’t think there will be too much of a difference than what it is right now.”
Q: Is a certain creative tension between a coach and a GM a good thing for a team?
Tepper: “I think there have to be discussions, and people don’t have to agree all the time. They shouldn’t agree all the time. But we should have the goal to win or be the best you can possibly be, and there has to be a certain amount of collaboration, and there has to be a certain amount of tension in that collaboration.
“Collaboration doesn’t mean everybody agrees all the time. That means you inform, you let people know what’s going on, you don’t hold things back. Transparency is a byword, and you have discussions, and sometimes you have arguments because you have that transparency. But you all are trying to get to the same goal in a collaborative method. That doesn’t mean you totally agree or should totally agree.”
Q: With a possible top-five pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on the horizon, who would have the final say on that pick?
Tepper: “I think it should be the GM with a lot of talk with the head coach and some, potentially, input from me. Sometimes I may just have to be a tiebreaker. But I think it should be collaborative.”
Q: Is identifying a quarterback for the future a priority for the next GM?
Tepper: “If we think there’s somebody, we’re going to go for what helps the team most of the time. If that’s that position, we’ll take it.”
Q: With the economic challenges of roster building, isn’t it important to exhaust every possibility in finding a young quarterback?
Tepper: “Especially with that position that counts so much in the NFL, especially with the way the rules are now more than ever. I think you always have to continuously try to be the best you can be at that position, always look for the best person you can possibly have or what you have right now. So I think it’s constant, constant, constant analysis of what you have and what you have in the future. It’s not so easy to find elite quarterbacks.
“The ultimate goal here is to have someone get to the Super Bowl and have someone who can take you there. So you constantly will be searching. Do you have those right people now or are those right people out there?”
Q: When Rhule was hired, you talked about how long the process could be. Are you closer to where you want to be than you expected then?
Tepper: “I’m very excited about that. I think we put special emphasis on free agency because we had a lot to do with the roster, and you could see so many rookies coming through. Even [Saturday]’s game, there were a lot of people through the draft and undrafted free agents that were playing in key roles.
“Matt, as advertised, is a very good developer of talent. You’re starting to see it here, and we get to this point in the season in how the defense has developed. There’s been progress. It was a really interesting game, interesting in how coaches do things with process. The Packers had a great first half, but they didn’t do too much in the second half. We had four or five sacks and look at who got those sacks. There’s first-year players, and [Brian] Burns was in there. It was all young guys. We have all young guys, and we’re developing these guys and making progress.
“You can see that every day in some parts of this football team. When you talk about Matt and what happens here, this team, while we would’ve like to have seen better results this season, at the end of the day, this team doesn’t give up. And, while it’s maybe disappointing that in a lot of these situations where we had a chance to win and we haven’t, well, we have been in position to win. So hopefully, we’ll turn the corner on those things.
“This team could easily have another four wins. The eight games that we had the ball last to win or tie — seven to win, one to tie — if you win four of those games, you’re in a totally position right now with this young team. So looking at next year, I’m very hopeful about where we will be and what we will do.”