There are a lot of ways to describe Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, but one word says it best:
In his first full-fledged news conference in 493 days, Tepper didn’t comment on the facility fight in Rock Hill, didn’t comment on the Panthers’ pursuit of quarterback Deshaun Watson and didn’t comment on what quarterbacks in Thursday’s NFL draft that he likes.
Tepper is a gregarious billionaire used to saying what he likes, doing what he wants and winning in business, over and over. But he just kept preaching patience with his football team Wednesday, even after four straight losing seasons under his ownership.
And he sounded pretty happy with the direction of a team that has gone 10-23 in two seasons under Tepper’s hand-picked coach, Matt Rhule.
“I believe in Matt and he has my full support,” Tepper said.
The owner also called Sam Darnold a “very good quarterback” with some “incredible skills.”
Referring to his frequent statements that Rhule and his staff needed five years to thoroughly rebuild the Panthers from his hire date, Tepper said: “Maybe it’ll be six years, I don’t know.”
And he pulled out one of his old favorites to describe the Panthers, likening them to a great Italian city.
“There’s a saying and I didn’t make it up.” Tepper said. “Rome wasn’t built in a day. And it wasn’t. And neither is this team.”
It’s true that Tepper does sound different now than he did when he bought the team in 2018. The difficulties of establishing a winning foundation in the NFL have been brought home to him after a four-year combined record of 22-43. Fans with season tickets have had a particularly difficult time finding much to cheer about, as Carolina has lost 21 of her past 27 home games.
“Listen, I have new appreciation for how stupid I am,” Tepper said Wednesday.
Tepper didn’t touch the Rock Hill mess even after being asked about the Panthers’ half-built headquarters a half-dozen times in a 30-minute Zoom news conference. Undoubtedly, his attorneys would say his “no comment” bonanza was a good idea — anytime a project like this one goes awry, lawsuits may well follow. But Tepper naturally prefers to speak off the cuff. He can afford the luxury of candor.
Not this time, though — at least not the way he usually does. There were a few tidbits, however, including the fact that Tepper now sounds like he would never support a domed stadium in Charlotte.
Said Tepper: “On any given Sunday, when you’re sitting there in November, in Charlotte, North Carolina, it is just gorgeous. … What I said originally (about possibly constructing a domed stadium or retro-fitting Bank of America Stadium with a roof) was said in haste. … Why would you ever want to do something different? It’s beautiful here and it’s just a great experience to be in here. It’s like being alive.”
When asked if he was “committed” to keeping the Panthers in Charlotte, Tepper sounded optimism — but you’ll notice he never quite said “yes” or “no.”
“I’ve often said that this is the best place for the Panthers,” the owner said. “Uptown, where the stadium is right now. … The most logical place for the Carolina Panthers to be is in Charlotte.”
The timing of the event was curious. Tepper hadn’t held a real press conference in more than 16 months, since he fired former general manager Marty Hurney on Dec. 21, 2020. But he chose the day before the NFL draft — one of the most anticipated days on the league calendar — to answer questions. Because of that, some of the anticipatory draft coverage leading up to the last few hours before the draft will be shuffled down the page or toward the end of local sports telecasts.
Still, it was good that he spoke at all. It serves Tepper’s best interests to occasionally open a window into what he’s thinking. One of these days, he’s going to ask the city of Charlotte for a lot of public money for a new or heavily renovated football stadium, so he needs the goodwill.
The window didn’t open that much. But when it did, Tepper sounded surprisingly patient. Somewhat quotable. And very careful.