CHARLOTTE — On a half-hour virtual press conference with local media Wednesday afternoon, Panthers owner David Tepper expressed disappointment that Bank of America Stadium will not host fans in Week 1.
"Listen, I miss the fans," Tepper said. "That's what it's about — it's about winning and the fans."
As indicated in the team's statement on Monday, Tepper reiterated that the organization worked hard to craft a science-based plan that would allow the stadium to host a limited number of fans. But the organization will continue conversations with state officials, including those from the office of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.
"I understand Cooper has a difficult job with this COVID from an optics standpoint and a science standpoint," Tepper said. "I'm hopeful we'll have continued conversations, the science will prevail, and we'll have fans."
Some of Tepper's desire to get fans in the building comes from potentially staving off a competitive disadvantage compared to Carolina's NFC South rivals.
"I think Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida — they'll have approval. And I expect those teams will be having fans through the year," Tepper said. "We're hopeful that when we get into October, we'll be talking with the governor, and we'll have fans, too."
Tepper also expressed disappointment for the players and coaches, who won't have friends and family members in attendance for their first game.
"That's just kind of sad," Tepper said. "But, I guess there's a lot of sad things with COVID."
Nevertheless, Tepper expressed a belief that the Panthers should safely host fans at some point this season.
"As we put out, we had infectious disease experts on the plan. We did simulations, the whole bit," Tepper said. "We do think we can do this. We don't think we can do it as a full stadium, obviously. But we think … we can do limited fans very safely in the stadium based on pure science."
IMPRESSIONS OF RHULE
Matt Rhule has faced countless challenges stemming from the pandemic, including not having an in-person offseason program. But through the unique circumstances of the last six months, Tepper has been impressed with his first-year head coach.
"Coach Rhule is a disciplined-process (coach), but he also has that old, hard-nosed sort of Pittsburgh deal. He's not from Pittsburgh, but he's from Pennsylvania, not too far away. So I think I appreciate all that about him," Tepper said. "He's a good speaker with you all, but he's also a great communicator with his players, and I really appreciate that."
Tepper, a Pittsburgh native, also thinks Rhule owning a master's degree in educational psychology could turn out to be an advantage in this unique season.
"He's a great evaluator, a great motivator," Tepper said. "It doesn't hurt, that degree, in how you deal with people, and how you deal with people, particularly this year. So I know it's not something you think about football coaches potentially being smart away from football, or having a master's degree even. But this coach does."
MOVING ON FROM NEWTON
Tepper had not addressed the media since the Panthers released quarterback Cam Newton in March. On Wednesday, Tepper said that was a "very difficult" decision, noting his wife, Nicole, cried about it.
"We really respected Cam, and we still do, obviously. And I wish him the best possible up in New England," Tepper said. "The problem with COVID and such and not knowing what was going on, it put us in a very difficult position at his salary, quite frankly. And we made the best possible decision we could given the circumstances."
Newton signed with the Patriots on July 8.
SOCIAL JUSTICE AND INCREASING DIVERSITY
Tepper has met with players about social justice issues and wants to continue the ongoing dialogue about action items. He also pointed to the Panthers' "Your Vote Counts" initiative as one thing the club has already started.
Tepper has also spoken with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about increasing representation of women and people of color on the business side of team and league operations.
"From my perspective, one thing we've tried to do at the Panthers and will try to do harder is the diversity of our workforce. I think we've done a fairly good job at the upper-management level. We've done an OK job through the corporation," Tepper said. "I think we've got to lead in business in this regard."
Tepper said that while he's been in constant communication with general manager Marty Hurney, they have not had time to discuss a possible contract extension.
"There's been too much to do to have those conversations," Tepper said. "You should ask me that question later on.
"Marty and I are very concentrated on doing as much as we can — and obviously coach Rhule — in getting this football team in shape and making sure we keep the players safe and healthy and starting the season. And that's all we care about right now."
Tepper noted some of those conversations have been about scouting processes during the pandemic. For example, Tepper said they've discussed whether scouts should meet virtually with college coaches to save time instead of traveling so much. That could make some scouting more efficient.
View photos from Tuesday's practice in the last week before the regular season.