David Tepper Has A Lot Of Nerve
9:05 AM EST on February 1, 2023
It's foolish to expect an NFL owner to ever express any sense of humility or shame, but even knowing who these guys are and how they operate, it was still a little bit shocking to see Panthers owner David Tepper talk about wanting to break up the NFL's "old boys' network" while introducing a member of that network as his team's new head coach.
There are currently three active black head coaches in the NFL, a persistent source of embarrassment for the league that is further highlighted by Brian Flores's ongoing discrimination suit. The league-wide failure to create opportunities for black coaches is one that Tepper personally participated in when he hired Frank Reich last week. Reich was hired to replace Matt Rhule, who was fired after leading the Panthers to a 1-4 start and then replaced on an interim basis by Steve Wilks, who went 6-6 in his 12 games in charge despite the Panthers trading away their best offensive player and not having a functional quarterback. Reich, meanwhile, was sitting at home after being canned by the 3-5-1 Colts after Week 9. It's hard to imagine a more flagrant example of a qualified black candidate being passed over in favor of a less-qualified white one. It is precisely these sorts of decisions that have kept black coaches locked out of the NFL's top jobs for as long as the league has existed.
So it was pretty jarring to see Tepper strike a defensive tone when asked about the NFL's ongoing racial disparity among NFL head coaches during Reich's introductory press conference on Monday:
Tepper began his answer with a classic maneuver from the shameless executive handbook. "I think that you should look first at our executive team, and inside the building," said Tepper. "And look at who we have at different positions inside our building. Our president is a woman. We have probably the most diverse executive team in the NFL right now. We have two African Americans. We are probably a minority of white men on our executive team right now." In other words: Yes, you may have noticed that we have done a bad thing today, but have you considered that we have also done other things that are less bad? Tepper didn't mention that his wife, Nicole, is a member of his diverse executive team, or that Reich's daughter, Hannah, just got a job in the team's marketing department.
The lack of black head coaches in the NFL is a discrete problem with specific causes which frankly have nothing to do with the the demographic makeup of the Panthers' or any other team's business operation. Tepper himself admitted as much, perhaps unintentionally, when he talked about who had input on Reich's hiring. "When you're vetting head coaches, Scott should have an input, very big input, and Dan should have very big input into that process. I mean those are the three guys that should have major inputs into that process," Tepper said. He was referring to Panthers general manger Scott Fitterer and assistant general manager Dan Morgan, both of whom are white and have worked in the NFL for their entire professional careers. "You wanna break the old boys' network," Tepper continued. "That's what the key is."
No executive in any industry has ever given a good answer to a question about why he keeps hiring white men, but the line of bullshit that Tepper is running here is as bad as it gets. At least when an old coot like Jerry Jones stumbles into a microphone and says something like, Aw well shoot you know we just want the best people at this organization, don't matter if they black, white, purple, or green, he's being relatively up front about the fact that he doesn't give a shit what anyone thinks and is just trying to end the conversation as quickly as possible. But Tepper standing up there and passionately insisting that he is dedicated to tearing down the very structure that he just got done fitting with a new support beam is really something. It's not enough for this guy to do whatever he wants—he has to demand that everyone acknowledge all the virtuous work he's doing, too.