In a move that was surprising only because of the timing, the Panthers fired longtime head coach Ron Rivera. Relatively new owner David Tepper made the move after Carolina’s semi-embarrassing (the Panthers had so many injuries) loss at home this weekend to lowly Washington. It was the Panthers’ fourth straight loss and dropped them to 5-7 on the season.
The move, which most expected to happen at the end of this season, ended a successful run for Rivera. He was the winningest coach in franchise history, posting a 76-63-1 record in almost nine seasons. The Panthers reached a Super Bowl in 2015 after going 15-1 in the regular season. Franchise quarterback, Cam Newton, was the NFL MVP. The Panthers came up short against the Broncos, but Rivera still helped the team become the NFC champion for the first time since 2003.
Rivera should leave Charlotte with his head held high and proud of his accomplishments in Carolina. He’s an outstanding coach and will be coaching next season if he wants a job.
The question now: Where do the Panthers go from here?
I’ve thought since Tepper took over the team before the 2018 season that he’d attempt a total reboot of the franchise when he got the chance, as most new owners want their own people in these power positions. Well, that chance is now.
Firing Rivera was the first move to make after this season fell off the tracks. Here is what Tepper had to say about the timing of the firing:
#Panthers owner David Tepper said he wanted to show patience on the football side but "I just thought it was time, given the way things have gone the last two seasons, to put my stamp on this organization on the football side as we've done on the business side."— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) December 3, 2019
Based on his other comments, we have some hints about the direction Tepper wants to go in, too. Tepper wants to be cutting edge. He wants to be more innovative and to invest more in analytics:
David Tepper says Ron Rivera accepted analytics and the new processes in the NFL "to a certain extent." Adds that he thought it was time for "fresh blood to change the culture."— Joe Person (@josephperson) December 3, 2019
Tepper mentioned hiring an offensive coordinator, which would continue the NFL trend from the previous offseason.
Tepper: "In the modern NFL, I think there's a preference for offensive coordinators. ... That doesn't mean if you find someone excellent on the defensive side you don't consider it."— Joe Person (@josephperson) December 3, 2019
This leads me to believe the Panthers will look toward a younger offensive coordinator who is willing to be innovative and coach the team in the image of his vision. But as Tepper said, I don’t think the Panthers should limit themselves to just an offensive guy.
Find the best coach. Find a John Harbaugh. An overseer of the franchise who’s cutting edge. An awesome motivator paired with outstanding coordinators.
It appears helping to lead the search for a new head coach will be current general manager Marty Hurney, who most (including myself), thought would be fired alongside Rivera. David Tepper cites Hurney’s ability to judge college talent as the reason to keep him on the staff.
In the announcement of the firing of Rivera, Tepper mentioned adding two positions to the front office, assistant general manager and VP of football operations. I assume both of these positions will be hires who use analytics more frequently than most and their team is built around that model. Hurney will be in charge of player scouting and these new hires will be in charge of the money/analytics and having to blend the player scouting with the analytics.
This is all brand new territory for a notoriously conservative franchise under former owner Jerry Richardson. Under John Fox and, even during the first few seasons of Rivera’s tenure, the franchise was old school. Defense, special teams, and some flash on offense. No outside noise, no analytics, and nothing on the cutting edge. Not anymore. I like this new Panthers organization.
All that change probably means a new quarterback too
The first decision the new Panthers front office will need to make is the future of their current franchise quarterback, Cam Newton.
Last season, Newton started the season on fire. He was off to one of the best years of his career. Newton had 15 touchdowns with four interceptions and was 6-2 as the Panthers’ starter. But then he got injured in a November game in Pittsburgh.
He didn’t win another game before heading on to injured reserve. Entering this season, Newton was “healthy” again, but was eventually sidelined with a foot injury. He only played in two games and the Panthers lost both. When the 2020 season begins, he will be 31 years old and coming off multiple injury-shortened seasons. I think the Panthers are moving on from Newton.
For one, it feels like the perfect opportunity to start the reboot process. Tepper has made it extremely clear he want his franchise to head in a different direction and releasing Newton would fall in line with that thought process. The Panthers can get out of Newton’s deal with almost no penalty, which makes it a clean break financially for them. Even more important than those factors are these next two:
- Does the new coach want to be tethered to Newton? Rivera embraced Newton and had his offenses designed around his quarterback’s strengths. He allowed Cam to be Cam. Will a new coach be as accepting? Also, it feels like a bad start to a relationship if you’re forcing a quarterback upon a new coach. He needs to choose his own guy.
- Do you trust Newton to stay injury-free next season? If you keep Newton on the roster and build around him only for him to get hurt again, you’re going to have another poor season. That’s something, I assume, is unacceptable for Tepper.
One thing that could KEEP Newton in Charlotte is Hurney staying in his general manager role. Hurney drafted Newton and it’s clear he’s a fan of his 2011 draft pick. But this is the only reason I could see the Panthers sticking with him.
It’s an absolutely perfect time to draft a first-round quarterback and begin the reboot process if you’re the Panthers. Clean break. Start over with a new coach and a new front office.
There’s one last thing to consider as well: Tepper wants a new stadium. Even though he’s a billionaire, he will ask for money to help fund that stadium and having a new trendy team, with an up-and-coming quarterback could help sell the public on the idea.
In the end, the firing of Rivera is just the start of a Tepper reboot of the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are going to get younger, more analytical, and it will start with a new coach and probably a new quarterback too.