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Carolina Panthers owner defends Frank Reich hiring with tone-deaf comment

NFL: Carolina Panthers Head Coach-Frank Reich-Press Conference

The Carolina Panthers are under scrutiny for hiring an outside candidate in that of Frank Reich to be their next head coach over interim man Steve Wilks.

Wilks took over for the disaster that was Matt Rhule and led the team to a respectable 6-6 record and playoff contention. This came after Carolina lost four of its first five to open the season.

As Wilks was doing his thing on an interim basis, reports surfaced that he had a real opportunity to land the full-time gig in Carolina. After being passed over for another qualified candidate, Wilks expressed disappointment.

“The sun rose this morning and by the grace of God, so did I. I’m disappointed but not defeated. Many people aren’t built for this but I know what it means to persevere and see it through. It was an honor for me to coach those men in the Carolina Panthers’ locker room as the interim head coach. Players, coaches and staff, thank you for your hard work and dedication.”

Steve Wilks on being passed up for Carolina Panthers head coach job

Back in April of 2022, Wilks joined a class-action suit headed by fellow Black coach Brian Flores claiming racial discrimination in the hiring process of coaches and front office personnel around the NFL. He was fired following just one season as the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach after posting a 3-13 record in 2018.

Related: Grading Carolina Panthers hiring Frank Reich

Carolina Panthers owner offers interesting take on hiring Frank Reich

NFL: Carolina Panthers Head Coach-Frank Reich-Press Conference
Griffin Zetterberg-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers owner David Tepper did his best to defend the hiring of Reich over Wilks as the team’s head coach. In doing so, he pointed to Carolina’s current front office and executive team.

“We have probably the most diverse executive team in the NFL right now. We are probably a minority of white men on our executive team right now. That’s where it starts. That’s America.”

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper

Tepper is pointing to Panthers chief administrative officer Kristi Coleman, chief administrative officer Kisha Smith and general council Tanya Taylor. He is right in this regard. But we’re talking about those in key personnel and chief decision-making roles. The fact that he felt it was necessary to name drop is rather interesting.

Tepper didn’t stop there. He brought up a term that’s become synonymous with the NFL’s hiring standards despite the fact that he himself might have played into that.

“How do you break that old boys’ network? How do you break that process? You break the process by trying to get the best people possible in every role you can do. Whether it’s the new [general counsel] we hired, who happens to be an African American woman. Whether it happens to be Frank Reich, who is a Caucasian male.”

David Tepper on Frank Reich hiring

The “old boys’ network” refers to a network of mostly white owners who have a history of failing to put minority candidates in a position of power. Sound familiar?

As for the hiring of Reich, this isn’t to say he’s not qualified. We’re talking about someone who spent 14 seasons in the NFL as a quarterback. He posted a respectable 40-33-1 record in five seasons as the Colts’ head coach. Rather, the fact that Tepper decided to reference the “old boys network” after making this hire is interesting.

While Wilks was pretty diplomatic after being passed up for the Panthers’ head coach job, his attorneys were not so kind.

“We are shocked and disturbed that after the incredible job Coach Wilks did as the interim coach, including bringing the team back into Playoff contention and garnering the support of the players and fans, that he was passed over for the Head Coach position by David Tepper.”

Attorneys for Steve Wilks on Carolina Panthers’ coaching decision

With Reich now aboard as the Panthers’ head coach, there’s only three Black head coaches in the NFL today. That includes Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Todd Bowles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and DeMeco Ryans, who was just hired by the Houston Texanson Tuesday. Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel also identifies at bi-racial.

As for Wilks, he might not be out of a job for long. Ryans’ former San Francisco 49ers team put in a request to interview him for their defensive coordinator vacancy on Tuesday.

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