The Carolina Panthers fired Ron Rivera, their head coach for nearly nine seasons. This article examines the present state of owner David Tepper’s team.

On Tuesday December 3rd, the Carolina Panthers fired their head coach Ron Rivera. With a record of 76-63-1 over almost nine seasons, Rivera had the best win percentage of any coach in the Panthers’ history. Rivera was the second head coach to be fired in the 2019 NFL season, after Jay Gruden in October. That Rivera was fired before other NFL head coaches who are less successful might surprise some people, especially given the injuries to franchise quarterback Cam Newton and other players, there was some feeling that this move had been on the cards ever since present owner David Tepper bought the team in May 2018, although there was also an expectation that he would last until the end of the season. Tepper wanted to move now on the head coaching position, however, stating that it was now time for him to put his ‘stamp’ on the football side of the Panthers operations.

Secondary coach Perry Fewell was announced as the interim head coach. It was also announced that offensive coordinator Norv Turner will transition to special assistant to the head coach, and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner will serve as offensive coordinator. These puzzling moves add to the surprise of Rivera departing ahead of arguably less successful coaches in the league. Fewell only joined the Carolina staff this season, and his head coaching experience is limited to serving as the interim head coach for the Buffalo Bills in 2009 after they fired Dick Jauron.

Perhaps Fewell’s previous experience in a transitional capacity is why Tepper tapped him to serve in the same position now but the role change for Norv Turner raises questions. Tepper may want to give Fewell the support of someone with more extensive head coaching experience. The Norv move, however, could also indicate either a lack of faith in Fewell – in which case why make him the head coach, even in an interim – or that Norv is not long for the offensive coordinator position. Either way, shifting Norv disturbs a side of the team that has already been severely disrupted this season and faces a number of questions in the coming year. Additionally, raising a position coach with only interim head coaching experience and who has been with the team for less than a year over a coordinator with actual head coaching experience and who has been with the team longer raises some eyebrows and could ruffle some fur at Bank of America Stadium.

Adding to the disruption created by the coaching changes is the uncertainty around the general manager and quarterback positions. The owner, the head coach, the general manager and the quarterback are the individuals with the most influence on the success of a team, and four of those positions currently have big questions in Carolina. There are reports that Tepper is also looking at moving on from general manager Marty Hurney. Although Tepper noted in an interview that Hurney is an “excellent evaluator of college talent”, the Panthers will reportedly be adding will be hiring an assistant general manager and vice president of football operations.

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As with Hurney, Tepper has made no clear commitment to Newton’s future with the team. In response to a question about the quarterback’s status with the team, Tepper answered:

I don’t know, because I haven’t talked to that new coach yet. But listen, if I’m a coach, what will I look at? You may say that a coach is going to look for the best quarterback around, so that’s where you’re going with that question. Well, look, I mean, hopefully Cam’s healthy. I frankly don’t know, and neither does Cam right now. By the way, the last time I looked, there’s three quarterbacks on this team. Kyle Allen, who you’ve seen a lot of, still young. Will Grier, who hasn’t been in yet, who we’re developing in a very traditional way, who may be very good at some point, and Cam Newton.

Tepper might be leaving the decision on Newton to the incoming coach or he might have some ideas of his own that will factor into the hiring decision. Newton remains very popular in the Carolinas but he’s also been injured a lot in recent seasons. He’s only played a complete schedule of sixteen games twice in the past five seasons, was either limited or out for a notable portion of the 2018 season, and missed all but two games this season. Those injury problems may have been arguably exacerbated by protection issues but the fact that Newton missed nearly all of this season after not a lot of contact creates concern going forward.

2019 has been a rollercoaster season for the Carolina Panthers. It began in the off-season when the drafting of Will Grier spurred questions about Newton’s status with the team. It continued into the regular season, when the hopes that accompanied Newton’s return to the field were quickly dashed by losses at home to the Los Angeles Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Things got really low when it was announced after the loss to Tampa Bay that Newton would be out and may be out for some time. Then the season took a surprising upswing as Carolina won four out of its next five games under backup quarterback Kyle Allen. The ride then took another unpleasant turn, however, as the Panthers lost their next four games, the most recent of which was to Washington, who had only won two games prior this season. That loss may have sealed the head coach’s fate.

The ride has stopped for Ron Rivera but the ups and downs will likely continue for the rest of Panthers Nation as the team looks for its new head coach as well as for answers in the 2020 season.

 

Next – Rolling the Dice: an analysis of head coaching possibilities for the Carolina Panthers.

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