SPARTANBURG – Business leaders from around the Carolinas, many from the Greenville-Spartanburg region, convened at Wofford College on Tuesday morning for the "Deloitte Panthers Kickoff Breakfast."
The event featured remarks from head coach Ron Rivera, owner David Tepper and team president Tom Glick.
The Panthers and Deloitte are launching a collaboration, and this breakfast was an opportunity for the leaders of the franchise to speak on what's to come on and off the field in 2019 and beyond.
Glick announced that Deloitte is helping the Panthers envisage a technology infrastructure at Bank of America Stadium and the eventual new team facility in Rock Hill which will bring immediate commercial impact.
When Tepper took the stage, he spoke about ways in which the Panthers can be a major unifying asset for the region.
"When you look from a marketing perspective, we have a huge opportunity," Tepper said. "This team has been underutilized as a brand in the past."
The "All or Nothing" series on Amazon Prime Video, the London game this season, a growing social media presence in other countries – they are all ways in which the brand is growing.
"We should be thinking bigger," Tepper said.
Tepper isn't afraid to throw out big ideas – like his push for an Major League Soccer team or his desire to put a retractable roof on the stadium to attract the NCAA Final Four to Charlotte (both topics came up at the breakfast). But he also mentioned the little things he's paying attention to, like wanting bike trails to connect through the Rock Hill campus.
All of this is still new to Tepper, who became Panthers owner in May of 2018, but when asked about the transition, he said the philosophies he developed in the hedge fund world have been applicable in the NFL.
"Business is business. I don't know how to say it any other way," Tepper said. "Good management process, good decision-making? Same thing.
"When you come in as a new owner, you are a little bit mystified by the football side. You don't want to screw things up.
"But the troubles last year helped me understand what it was and it led to revamping the management structures."
Speaking of revamping, Rivera spoke about the ways in which Carolina addressed areas of needs this offseason.
"One of the first things we looked at was improving the defensive front," Rivera said. "How can we get a better pass rush? And one of the things that kept coming up was the 3-4 alignment. In today's game you just don't see the kind of defensive ends like Julius Peppers, they are just not there anymore. But you do see the Khalil Macks, who we are going to see Thursday night. Guys like that are more readily available, and because we were a 4-3, we were passing on guys like that.
"We've been playing a 4-man front for the last eight seasons. It can get kind of stagnant and people know what you do. There is not a lot of creativity. One of the things I did last year was add some of the 3-man front stuff and it started to pay dividends. It's creative a positive buzz for the defense. You see the speed. It's a completely different feel.
"On the offensive side, we looked at it and thought our biggest hole was going to be at left tackle," Rivera said. "We drafted two (Greg Little and Dennis Daley), and with the return of Daryl Williams, we now have three guys who can play that left tackle position."
Before heading out to practice, he left the audience with this message: "Thank you for your support of this football team. Now it's up to us to do our jobs. We have to go out there and play to our abilities and I believe we will this season."
Here are a couple extra entertaining tidbits from the breakfast:
--Rivera told the story behind the shirt he was sporting with cartoon images of Tepper and GM Marty Hurney. He joked that it represents an old Native American tale about the two wolves on your shoulders – one that gives good advice and one that gives bad advice. Then Tepper hilariously chimed in with his own colorful description of the shirt. We'll leave it at that.
--Rivera when asked about managing the personalities on the team: "Have you seen how our quarterback dresses?" Lots of laughs followed.
--Rivera on what he learned from other coaches over the years: "Those of you that have watched "All or Nothing," the language, I might have learned that from Mike Ditka." After the laugher died down, Rivera talked about how Ditka explained to him that he pushed the guys so hard because he had been in their shoes. He said he only asked guys to do what he knew they were capable of. Rivera has applied that to his own coaching philosophy.