The first hurdle is over, but the finish line is still a long way off. Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera had a pretty great season, taking home the NFL Coach of the Year award while also taking a previously lackluster Panthers team to the NFC Playoffs. His achievements earned him a contract extension and, for the time being, a permanent stay in Carolina. However, while Rivera did an exemplary job last year, his real test lies ahead in 2014 and throughout the offseason.
There are many in the sports world who think that Rivera didn’t deserve Coach of the Year honors as there were teams with more impressive turnarounds, such as the Kansas City Chiefs. These accounts, while few and far between, are not baseless. The offense needed a lot of work and the passing game was almost nonexistent. There is no doubt that Rivera did turn the Panthers around last season, but one trip to the playoffs doesn’t prove anything. It’s next season where Rivera’s real test begins.
Since Rivera joined the Panthers he has steadily been rebuilding the team each year. After taking over a Panthers team that had just suffered an abysmal season, the team’s record has climbed every year since Rivera has starting coaching. Impressive, but those numbers do not mean as much as it seems.
The reason is pressure. Rivera has never been in the spotlight of sports media; he’s never had a winning team who is going to lose many key players to free agency; and he’s never had the expectations of returning to the playoffs. That is a laundry list of things that the coach, especially with Coach of the Year and a new contract, is going to have to face head on. The best coaches and players stand up and laugh in the face of pressure. While Rivera might do that, he has been untested. He’s about to have more than his fair share of the spotlight, and next season will really tell if he’s just a flash in the pan or someone set on the finish line.