With Chip Kelly deciding to return to the Oregon Ducks for the 2013 season, the fans in Eugene will be celebrating. One person who shouldn’t be happy Kelly passed on the NFL this season, though, is Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.
It was no secret that owner Jerry Richardson heavily considered making a change at head coach after a disappointing 2012 campaign. With a cleaning out of the front office during the season and another season without significant success on the field, many thought Rivera’s job might be in jeopardy, especially with coach du jour Kelly actively testing the market.
But Richardson’s indecision may have cost Carolina a chance to talk to Kelly, who had said he wanted to make a decision on where he’d be coaching next season quickly. That meant that the Panthers got left out of his whirlwind NFL interview tour and saved Rivera’s job–at least for one more season.
Carolina’s roster is filled with good offensive talent, like quarterback Cam Newton and the running back duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who are consistently coming up short of playing up to their potential. A 6-10 2011 was followed up with a 7-9 2012 with Newton seemingly taking a step back for most of the year. That lack of development falls on the coaching staff and Rivera in particular.
Without an improved 2013 from Carolina in which the offensive weapons get properly utilized, the Panthers could be one of the first to make a coaching change next season, especially if Chip Kelly once again looks like he’s going to test the NFL waters next offseason. That puts some added pressure on Rivera for 2013.
The defensive-minded Rivera is a very good coach, but he isn’t ideally suited to utilize the talents of Newton and the two-headed running back attack to their full potential. Kelly has quickly proven his offensive acumen in college and many consider the Carolina roster the most “Kelly-ready” roster in the NFL. If the Oregon head coach was going to make a successful splash at the next level, the best spot would probably be with Carolina.
Now that Kelly has turned down a few more NFL teams this offseason, he remains a “free agent” in terms of NFL head coaching vacancies. If Oregon has another good year, which they appear primed to do, then Kelly’s NFL stock will continue to rise. Another disappointing season for Rivera and the Panthers could be turning to the college coach to try and break Carolina through into the playoffs and beyond.
While he was surely relieved to hear that his job was secure for another year, Rivera has to be wary of the highly sought head coach on the sidelines of Autzen Stadium. The specter of Kelly possibly making the leap next offseason puts the Carolina coach on the hot seat early for the 2013 season.