Why Ron Rivera Isn't the Man to Lead Carolina Panthers Back to Relevance

Stephen FenechCorrespondent IOctober 2, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Head coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers looks on against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on September 30, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers hired Ron Rivera to be their head coach on January 11, 2011, with the hope that he would revitalize their defense and groom whoever the team chose first in the upcoming draft. 

As it turned out, the Panthers drafted Cam Newton with the first overall selection. 

In Newton and Rivera's first season, Newton won the Rookie of the Year award as the Panthers finished with a 6-10 record. 

Considering that the Panthers went 2-14 in the season prior, Rivera was heralded for improving the teams' record by four wins in his first season. 

What was missed by those singing Rivera's praises, was that Carolina only beat one playoff team during their 2011 campaign. In fact, the Panthers beat the woeful Colts, the hapless Jaguars and Raheem Morris' Tampa Bay Buccaneers which ended last season as the leagues' laughingstock. 

So far this season, the Panthers have only won one game. That win came against the New Orleans Saints at home, which would be impressive if the Saints weren't still winless.

Through the first 20 games of his tenure in Carolina, Rivera has led the Panthers to a 7-13 record.

If Rivera had entered a situation that expected quick success, he would have already been given his walking papers.

While the Panthers didn't appear to be on the fast lane to success when he was hired, Newton's ascent along with the improvement of the rest of the team has changed the teams' expectations.

If Rivera fails to lead his team to the playoffs this season, that could be forgiven if the team appeared to still be on the rise. 

At this moment, it doesn't appear as if Rivera's presence is causing the team to improve.

Through the first quarter of the season, Carolina is ranked 22nd against the pass and 25th against the rush. Since Rivera was hired in large part due to his defensive expertise, it is disappointing to see the defense performing so poorly under his tutelage.

Against the Bucs in Week 1, the Panthers offensive line was dominated by the Bucs defensive line and Rivera made no adjustments to help his offense. His inability to change anything caused Cam Newton to run for his life all afternoon, as he couldn't get the running game to find any success. 

Newton and the Panthers beat the Saints in Week 2, but Drew Brees had no problem tearing Rivera's defense apart. 

Week 3 saw the Panthers hosting the New York Giants on a short week, with the home team getting trampled by the opposition. It was almost as if someone had forgotten to tell Rivera that the Giants employ one of the league's most talented and disruptive defensive lines. 

Justin Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck constantly harassed Newton, as Rivera and the Panthers staff refused to call screen passes and other plays that can take advantage of aggressive defensive lines. 

Prior to his hiring in Carolina, Rivera was the defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers

During his first full season as defensive coordinator, the Chargers finished 16th in total defense. While he shouldn't be criticized too harshly for coaching a middle of the pack unit, his performance in San Diego wasn't overly impressive.

Rivera was a more attractive head coaching option after he was the defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears team that reached the Super Bowl in 2006. 

Head coaches that are successful make it a point to attack the weaknesses of their opponents, while remaining somewhat unpredictable.

Through his first 20 games, Rivera hasn't proven that he is able to conjure up game plans that attack those weaknesses. 

Newton is the key to the Panthers success moving forward, that much is incontrovertible. 

Newton and Carolina would be better off if the team relieved Rivera of his duties at season end—provided the team doesn't make the playoffs.

In Rivera's place, GM Marty Hurney could hire a head coach with a proven history in developing quarterbacks. If Newton is able to mature into one of the league's top five quarterbacks, then the Panthers will be perennial contenders in the NFC.

Rivera's expertise on the defensive side of the ball will ensure that he will always have a job in the NFL, but a head coaching position doesn't appear to be appropriate for him at this point.