Time Out For Sports: Questions Aplenty About Panthers’ Future

Feb 3, 2020

It’s Time Out For Sports on WFAE. Today, we’re discussing the Carolina Panthers’ future, the Charlotte Hornets, and we take a look at the regionals for high school swim teams.

A panther statue sits in front of Bank of America Stadium in uptown Charlotte in an undated photo.
Credit Carolina Panthers

Langston Wertz Jr., a longtime sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer, joins WFAE’s “All Things Considered” host, Gwendolyn Glenn, with more.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Let's start with the Carolina Panthers. The organization has a lot going on — hires, fires to the star quarterback, Cam Newton, possibly departing. What have you heard?

Langston Wertz Jr.: Well, it used to be, "We got to bring Cam back no matter what." And now people are kind of like, "Maybe we need to like, we have a new coach, you know, we have a new direction — maybe we need to move more from Cam." Cam does have a lot of supporters in town. You know, the question with him is just, can he be healthy?

And I think the Panthers need to find out whether or not he can be healthy. They do have a way to bring him back pretty cheaply, like $19 million for next season -- which is cheap for quarterback of his caliber.

But it's really going to be interesting because if they keep Cam, it's almost like we're not rebuilding, we're not tanking. But if they get rid of him, they're kind of starting all over, and do you want to go 1-15 again? You know, the fans who went through there before, that's a long season.

Glenn: Have you heard anything in terms of his rehabilitation with his foot?

Wertz: All indications seem to be the foot is fine. There's some, you know, rumor mill about the shoulder, but we don't really know until he comes back and kind of goes through medical testing and actually gets on the field and throws some passes. It's hard to know because everything's so hush-hush around Cam right now. The team certainly is going to play their hand. He's not going to play his hand.

Langston Wertz, a sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer.
Credit Langston Wertz

Glenn: And even given all of that, there are a lot of fans who don't want to hear that he's going. And you even have the billboards going up. You have the the songs. 

But now looking at the coach — the new coach, Matt Rhule. What's happening with him? What are you hearing in terms of how he is feeling about the quarterback position and also the hires that he's bringing in?

Wertz: Everybody is really pleased with the people he's brought in. He's bringing a lot of college coordinators, which is a little bit different, but these guys do have NFL experience. But they're bringing in some fresh ideas for the Panthers (to) become more offensive — which they haven't been under Ron Rivera, they were more defensive — and they're going to rely on analytics a lot more, which kind of plays into what owner David Tepper is really into, is analytics.

And Rhule has a reputation as a program builder — somebody who can build something sustainable, and that's what the Panthers ultimately want -- and I'm sure fans want, as well, is to have sustained success. I mean, the Panthers have been playing for 25 years; they've never had two consecutive seasons with a winning record, and that's really tough.

I think people are going to have to be patient because if they do give up Cam, they're definitely going to be rebuilding, and next season's not going to be six, seven, eight wins. It's more likely to be one, two or three.

Glenn: What's happening with the Hornets and what do you think their prospects for the season?

Wertz: You know, I don't think anybody was expecting great shakes from the Hornets this year. I mean, you lost Kemba, and you've had Kemba for X number of years and you've never gotten out of the first round of the playoffs. And that was kind of the ceiling with him here. And that's not a statement about him. It's just on the whole roster as it stands.

And now you've kind of gone to playing younger guys, Coach (James) Borrego is playing these young guys and not necessarily even playing some of the higher-pay veterans. And so, you know, the Hornets are going to be what they are. They're going to struggle this year. You know, I think they came out 7-7 or something like that early in the year. And people were really excited.

But, you know, they can sneak into playoff contention in the East, I don't think that's necessarily a good thing. I think if you're the Hornets, you want to get a high lottery pick, which they haven't had around here, and, you know, get to the top 10 and continue to build around some of the young guys that you have, and, you know, look ahead to the future.

Glenn: Another sport that we don't hear as much about is high school swimming, and I understand that there are going to be a lot of regionals coming up.

The Charlotte Hornets play in an undated file photo.
Credit Michael Tomsic / WFAE file photo

Wertz: Yeah, actually, in February and March, is the start of the high school regionals, and then the following week are the state championships. Swimming and wrestling are really unique events at regionals and states because there's not a lot of interest in that normally, but when they get to the regionals and the states, you have all the teams come together at one site — all the parents, all the grandmas, all the uncles.

So, it becomes like a big family reunion, and you have the best of the best in that sport going at it. For those two or three days in that sport, it becomes a pretty big deal even among high schools. And I think there's a lot of really good swimmers in Charlotte. and I expect we have some state championship teams as some state championship swimmers, so it should be pretty cool.

Wertz: Who are some of the top? And from what schools?

Wertz: Well, Hough has a really good swimming team, and Charlotte Catholic has a good one in the private schools; Charlotte Latin has a good one. We'll have multiple state champions. I can't name them all. We're going to have multiple state individual champions. We're going to have multiple state swimming champions.

Charlotte Catholic has a good team. South Meck's girls won conference for the first time in a long time, and then the boys also won. Lake Norman's boys and girls won conference. So, there's a lot of good teams around here that are going to compete at the regional and qualify for state.