Ron Rivera will enter his third season as the Carolina Panthers head coach next year. Some fans are calling for his head already. Most critics have Rivera on the hottest seat in the league. The Panthers found a new GM in Dave Gettleman and many think Rivera could be fired by mid-season if the Panthers can’t find a way to win. I don’t see how these thoughts are justified.
Look for Rivera to prove his critics wrong. The guy knows defense. Everywhere he has been, he has had a top defense. Previous coach, John Fox left the team defensively ranked 26th in points and 18th in yards at the end of 2010. Rivera was given the task of turning around a 2-14 team. Enter Cam Newton. The Panthers go from dead last on offense in points and yards to 5th and 7th respectively. So the guy who knows defense is gifted a top ten offense based off one talented quarterback.
In his first season as head coach, the defense actually took a step back. In 2011, the Panthers were ranked 27th in points and 28th in yards. We’ll let that slide though. It was his first season and he took the team to four more wins than in the previous season. They finished at 6-10. Good Start!
Last year, Cam Newton arguably took a step back in the first half of the season. He bounced back and the Panthers ended up winning five out of their final six games. Rivera righted the defensive ship 18 spots in yards. They finished the season with the 10th ranked defense. Not too shabby. The year was blanketed with locker room bickering. An unhappy Cam Newton took to the media asking for the now famous “suggestion box”. The Panthers ended up taking a backwards shuffle on offense to finish the season ranked 18th in points and 12th in yards. Just before mid season, they fired their GM. Despite the rough start, the Panthers still won more games! Final record…7-9. Almost there!
I’ve followed Ron Rivera since 2005. If you ask me, the 2013 Carolina Panthers are going to have one of the best defenses in the league. I see a top 5 finish in defense and a 10th ranked defense in points next season. I don’t see a coach with the hottest seat in the league. He is in the process of turning around a terrible team. And he is doing the job well. I see a team on the verge of going 9-7 to 10-6 and seeing their first playoff game since 2008. That doesn’t sound like a coach on his way out.
Rivera had the Chicago Bears 2005 defense ranked 2nd in the league. The following year, the Bears made the Super Bowl and the defense was ranked 5th. Bears coach Lovie Smith let Rivera walk. The two couldn’t get along. In my eyes, Rivera out-shined Smith and didn’t have room to grow with the team. The difference in opinion ultimately led to Rivera’s departure. Rivera took a role as linebackers coach in 2007 for the defensively challenged San Diego Chargers.
What happened next? Well, Rivera took a mediocre Charger team and turned them into the number one defense in the league. He did that in three seasons and reached the pinnacle of his craft when he was hired as the Panthers new head coach. That is the story behind Rivera’s career thus far. By looking at his track record, a consistent defense follows him around wherever he goes. If he stays on course, the Panthers are on the verge of an elite defense.
Add that to a very capable offense and one very talented, athletic quarterback and the Carolina Panthers will get their winning record this season. You may see a lame duck, but I see a coach about to get a contract extension after his first winning season.