Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Extending Rivera deal was a no-brainer
By David Newton
Ron Rivera led the Panthers to a division title after a 1-3 start.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ron Rivera's seat in his Bank of America Stadium office was hot.
The Carolina Panthers were 0-2 and there was speculation the head coach wouldn't survive through the bye week if the team lost at home against the New York Giants.
"This is new ground for me," Rivera said on Wednesday before the Week 3 Giants game. "I'm fortunate I've got some guys that have been through these tough times. I've talked to several of them a couple of times. I've got some friends in the league that I call and talk with.
"And I obviously talk to my family, talk to my wife. You always find a source of inspiration somewhere."
Ironically, Rivera became the source of inspiration for the Panthers. Players love playing for him and wanted to see him succeed. Many felt he was in this position because they let him down.
So they dug in deep. They became stronger as a group and learned how to win as a team.
And they won a lot -- 12 of their final 14 regular-season games to capture the NFC South title and a first-round bye in the playoffs. Many told me they were playing for Rivera more than themselves.
Now Rivera is hot. He's so hot that on Tuesday the Panthers gave him a three-year extension that will keep him as the head coach through 2017. Terms were not immediately available, but hopefully he got a hefty raise from the four-year, $11.2 million deal he signed in 2011.
It was the right move.
It was the only move.
To let Rivera go into the final year of his original deal as a lame duck coach would've shown a lack of confidence by the organization in a man who never lost confidence in what he was doing for the organization. It would have been wrong. It would have been unjust.
The Panthers went down that road with John Fox, who failed to put together consecutive winning seasons despite taking the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2003 and NFC championship in 2005, and it didn't work out so well.
Carolina went 2-14 in Fox's final season and left Rivera with a mess. It turned all right for Fox, who went to Denver where he ultimately got Peyton Manning and a team capable of beating Seattle in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
Now it has turned out all right for Rivera.
General manager Dave Gettleman said after the season that Marty Hurney, the person who was in his seat before he arrived last February, did a lot of good things to make this past season possible.
Hiring Rivera was one of them.
The professionalism Rivera showed under the microscope at 0-2 and 1-3 showed what type of person he is. That he stuck with the plan he laid out three years ago and didn't make drastic change for the sake of change while under fire showed what kind of coach he is.
The Panthers had to extend Rivera's deal for the same reason Rivera felt he had to hire Mike Shula as his offensive coordinator after Rob Chudzinski left to become the head coach at Cleveland after the 2012 season.
Teams that constantly change head coaches tend to fail. Look no further than the Browns, who gave up on Chudzinski after one season.
Had the Panthers given up on Rivera at 0-2 or 1-3, think of all they might have missed.
Rivera still has something to prove. He can't follow up a good season with a losing season as Fox did over and over.
But at least now the future looks bright. The team has a franchise quarterback in Cam Newton and franchise quarterback of the defense in middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. It has most of the front seven returning from a defense that finished second in the NFL against the run and in total defense.
It has some cap space to play with to improve thanks to Gettleman, who made necessary cuts and restructuring of deals to get there.
Gettleman said he needed three or four weeks to evaluate the players -- 21 that are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents -- for what they did for 17 weeks before making personnel decisions that will impact the team's long-term future.
Signing Rivera shouldn't have taken 17 days. It was a no-brainer.
Rivera's seat in his office at Bank of America Stadium still is hot, but now for the right reasons.
"For me to bury my head in the sand is not going to get it done," Rivera said before the Giants game in Week 3. "That's my approach. There is another week."