Tepper on Rock Hill practice facility: ‘We released a statement already’

CHARLOTTE — Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper spoke for the first time since his organization terminated the construction of the team’s practice facility deal in Rock Hill.

He started a news conference called Wednesday afternoon via Zoom call by quickly addressing the matter.

“I just want to say one thing first, up front you know, on Rock Hill. We released a statement already.”

He said he respected the city of Rock Hill’s request not to have a back and forth in public about the practice facility. Rock Hill had said the following in a statement on April 19:

“The City does not believe in addressing, through a public back-and-forth, its differences with another party.”

Several news organizations asked Tepper about the Rock Hill facility and the future of the old Eastland Mall site for Charlotte FC. He said he wants to have a conversation about it, but he refused to answer specific questions about either project. He also would not comment on what led to the halt in construction.

Tepper reiterated he was only going to talk about football and not soccer or entertainment, saying his focus is on Thursday night’s NFL draft.

However, Tepper did talk about the Panthers’ current location -- and how Charlotte is logically the best place for the team. He reaffirmed his commitment to the Carolinas.

“You know where the stadium is right now, it is the center of two states,” he said. “We are the Carolina Panthers, and there it is the most logical place for the Carolina Panthers to be -- is in Charlotte.”

In response to whether he was considering the Charlotte Pipe and Foundry land as the future site of a new stadium, Tepper said officials were conducting a study.

“Look, we think about different possibilities. We have a feasibility study for the stadium that we’re trying to just get finished up, how long does it last and stuff,” he said. “And listen, we’ll see what happens when we get that finished. That feasibility study should be done in the next few months. You know what it would cost to keep this thing going for, you know, a few more years and that’s first thing first I will speak.”

Tepper: Coach Matt Rhule has my full support

Tepper threw his support behind struggling head coach Matt Rhule on Wednesday, saying it takes patience and time to build a winning foundation in the NFL.

Rhule is 10-23 in his two seasons with the Panthers. Only the Lions, Texans, Jets and Jaguars have won fewer games than Carolina since Rhule’s arrival in 2020.

“Look, I believe in Matt and he has my full support,” Tepper said during a 30-minute videoconference with reporters on Wednesday.

Rhule is entering the third year of a seven-year, $62 million contract.

When asked if the success of the upcoming season will impact Rhule’s long-term future, Tepper replied, “This is a new season. ... There is a saying that what was then is then, and what is now is now. And we’re in the now, not in the then.”

Tepper’s overriding message was one of patience, stressing that “Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is this team.”

(WATCH BELOW: Tepper says he’ll keep Panthers stadium in Charlotte)

He still feels as if the Panthers have some strong pieces to build around on the roster.

“I’ve said five years, five years, five years from the time coach Rhule was (hired) here, and maybe it will be six years, I don’t know, from the time he was hired,” Tepper said. “I think it is just building that foundation and having patience to build that foundation, and trying to get fans to have patience for that foundation, to have sustained winning.”

Tepper admitted that developing patience has been difficult for him.

The Panthers are 22-43 since he bought the team in 2018 from founder Jerry Richardson for a record $2.275 billion. Only once in the past four seasons have the Panthers won more than five games. Carolina has not been to the playoffs since Tepper took over.

“I have new appreciation for how stupid I am sometimes, quite frankly,” Tepper said. “I shouldn’t say that and people afterward are going to say, ‘why did you say that?’ But listen, it is hard, and I have a certain amount of humility in this respect.”

Tepper praised the additions Rhule made to his coaching staff this offseason which included hiring former NFL head coaches Steve Wilks (secondary) and Ben McAdoo (offensive coordinator) and long-time coaches Paul Pasqualoni (defensive line) and James Campen (offensive line) as assistants.

“That brings a lot more experience than the old staff,” Tepper said. “That’s a wealth of experience.”

The biggest hurdle for Tepper and the Panthers has been finding consistency at the quarterback position.

Teddy Bridgewater, Kyle Allen, Sam Darnold and Cam Newton have all struggled to find success in Carolina.

Darnold and P.J. Walker are the only QBs currently on the roster. Tepper said he still views Darnold as a good quarterback, but said the team is “always looking” to improve.

The Panthers have the sixth pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night and are likely to have their choice of Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Liberty’s Malik Willis or Mississippi’s Matt Corral if they choose to take a quarterback.

>> Channel 9 Sports Director Phil Orban and Reporter DaShawn Brown will be live from Las Vegas ahead of the first round. Watch special coverage at 7 p.m. Thursday followed by the draft at 8 p.m. on Channel 9.

Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said Tuesday the team is “comfortable” drafting a quarterback even though this is not generally considered a strong QB class with no true standout at that position.

Tepper declined to discuss a number of other pertinent topics, including the team’s unsuccessful pursuit of controversial quarterback Deshaun Watson.

He also refused to discuss the ongoing saga with the halted construction of the team’s half-built practice facility/headquarters in Rock Hill, South Carolina, saying he’s honoring the wishes of city officials there by not participating in back-and-forth conversations in the media. He reiterated he’s willing to sit down and talk with City of Rock Hill officials about funding for the $800 million project.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(WATCH BELOW: SC Gov. McMaster expresses disappointment as Panthers’ practice facility projects halted in Rock Hill)