The news of Frank Reich’s firing as head coach of the Carolina Panthers took tight end Hayden Hurst off-guard.
But he knew that, with a 1-10 record after falling to the Tennessee Titans this past Sunday, a change could be around the corner even if no one wanted it to happen.
“I was actually in the training room because unfortunately I’ve been in concussion protocol for the last couple weeks, so been a little bit removed from the team just trying to build my way back up,” Hurst told Fox News Digital over the phone. “Caught me a little off-guard as far as the finality of it. But I think if you’re in that building, you kinda knew something potentially was going to happen unfortunately.”
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Hurst added: “Frank’s a great man with a great message. It’s just unfortunately in the NFL sometimes that doesn’t correlate to wins and I think that was the situation we found ourselves in. We wish Frank the best, but having a new voice in there will hopefully jump start some things, and we can start piling some wins at the end. Just get momentum heading into the offseason.”
While unfortunate, it’s the reality of how the NFL works: No matter your past as a coach or player, wins trump everything. Reich was a solid coach with the Indianapolis Colts before heading to Carolina this year, going 40-33-1 during his five-year stint with the team as their head coach.
However, Reich’s past didn’t match the present, though, as the Panthers own the worst record in the NFL and owner David Tepper didn’t like what he saw. Reich was fired on Monday after the 17-10 loss to the Titans, making him the first coach since the 1970 merger to be fired in back-to-back seasons after Colts owner Jim Irsay moved on halfway through the 2022 campaign after Indy went 3-5-1.
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The Panthers also moved on from assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley as well as quarterbacks coach Josh McCown. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor will assume the role of interim head coach.
Reich also noted to the Charlotte Observer that, while he’s not done coaching, it’s “probably the final chapter of my NFL journey.”
It’s certainly not the end of the road for Hurst and his teammates, though, as they try to look ahead to the remaining six games on the schedule. As Hurst mentioned, concussion protocol has kept him out since Nov. 9 when he faced the Chicago Bears, but he’s hoping to get back on the field this Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road.
It’s a tough situation to be in if you’re the Panthers because, like Hurst put it, “you’re really not playing for much.” But it’s not in the nature of an NFL team to just roll over and quit.
That’s the mindset Hurst says is in that locker room right now.
“Going out and playing for pride,” he said is the message being sent throughout the team. “I kinda said it for a few weeks before I was out with a concussion. Throw offensive production out the window, throw numbers out the window, throw wins and losses out the window. Go play for pride. Go out there, try to fly around, hit people. That’s all you can really ask for at this point.”
Hurst also thinks it’s a reflective time for players, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Reich and other coaches may have been the ones whose jobs were on the line, but it’s on the players, too.
Many will point fingers at rookie quarterback Bryce Young, this year’s first overall draft choice by Carolina, for why this group is 30th in yards per game and 29th in points scored. That’s not the case in Hurst’s eyes.
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Collective blame is the answer.
“I think top down, you can kinda look yourself in the mirror on this offense and be like, ‘At this point, I wasn’t good enough for Bryce. At this point, I wasn’t good enough,'” he explained. “That’s the [offensive] line, at running back, receiver, that’s myself. There’s times he’s hit me open and I’ve made a few drops. That’s uncharacteristic of me, but I’m man enough to sit there and look myself in the mirror and be like, ‘Well, I’ve got to go back to the drawing board and be better.’ So I think nobody on that offense is excluded from that. We’ve got to all around be better.”
The silver lining through a lost season? Hurst isn’t seeing anyone giving up, and that’s all you can ask for with playoffs not in the picture.
“Very easy when you’re a 1-10 team to kinda pack up for the holidays and head home, but I haven’t really seen that yet out of anybody offensively,” he said.
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What the future holds for the Panthers begins with Tepper finding a new head coach he trusts to groom Young and revitalize the locker room. Until then, Hurst hopes his Panthers teammates have pride in themselves to continue fighting side by side each week as the regular season starts to come to a close.