Carolina Panthers: Debating Whether Coach Ron Rivera Should Stay or Go

Stephen FenechCorrespondent INovember 5, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 21:  Head coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers yells to his team during their game against the Dallas Cowboys at Bank of America Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

When Panthers owner Jerry Richardson fired longtime GM and close friend Marty Hurney after the Panthers started 1-5, he effectively made a statement to both his team and the NFL as a whole. 

Richardson's statement was simple yet encouraging, as Hurney's dismissal signified that losing isn't acceptable for the franchise anymore. 

With the young and promising Cam Newton behind center, Richardson knows that his franchise's future is directly linked to Newton's progression at quarterback. 

In the NFL, where competitive parity is abundantly evident every week, having an elite quarterback grants a franchise a chance to compete each week. Even more importantly, having an elite quarterback presents an opportunity to win a Super Bowl. 

Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers coaching staff were able to lead the team to a win in a game that they absolutely needed. 

If the Panthers had fallen to the Washington Redskins in Week 9, Carolina would have compiled a 1-7 record and would have been atop the running for next April's first overall pick. 

Instead, the Panthers played a complete football game, and they beat the Redskins 21-13 to improve to 2-6. 

While the coaching staff should be praised for learning from their past mistakes in regards to game-planning, play-calling and decision-making, they are nowhere close to being out of the woods yet. 

It shouldn't have taken a genius to realize that the read-option wasn't working, so it was frustrating to see offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski stick with it for the first third of the season. 

Now that the offensive game plan focuses on the personnel's strengths with an apparently sustainable level of production, the Panthers find themselves in last place in the NFC. 

Even if contending for a playoff spot is long shot, it is still very important for the Panthers to be competitive for the remainder of the season. 

The future of Rivera and his staff should be tied to the progression and play of Newton. That isn't to say that the play of the rest of the team shouldn't be evaluated prior to making the decision on Rivera's future, but Newton's progression as a quarterback should be at the top of the list. 

Under Rivera's watch, the defense has turned in four straight respective performances, which is even more impressive considering that Jon Beason and Chris Gamble were both unavailable due to season-ending injuries.

After nine weeks, the defense ranks 15th against the pass and 20th against the rush.  Those numbers are slightly skewed by the poor performances that the defense turned in against the explosive attacks of the New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints

If the Panthers defense continues to improve based on the current trajectory, then they could potentially finish inside the league's top half in both passing and rushing defense. 

The improvement on defense can be connected to the improved pass rush from the defensive line, the emergence of Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker, the re-emergence of Thomas Davis at outside linebacker and the strong play from secondary members Captain Munnerlyn, Josh Norman and Charles Godfrey. 

Rivera and the coaching staff deserve praise for continuing to work with Greg Hardy and Munnerlyn, because each has found himself under attack in the past due to poor play. 

The Panthers need a coach who is going to stick by his guns, even if that means taking action to show Newton that he doesn't call all of the shots. 

As the franchise quarterback, Newton is always going to be given special perks while receiving extra attention.

If Newton struggles and the team loses, Rivera will be gone while Newton will continue training for next season. Such is the nature of the NFL, and that won't change moving forward. 

The organizations that are successful on an yearly basis employ powerful and determined head coaches. If you don't believe me, just look at the men in charge in New England, Pittsburgh or Green Bay

NFL head coaches are defined by winning and losing, and Rivera has done more losing than winning with the Panthers during his tenure. Through 24 games, Rivera has compiled a record of 8-16. 

In virtually all situations, when coaches are winning just a third of their games over an extended period of time, it all but ensures that they will be looking for a new job sooner than later. 

While Rivera has definitely not proven that he is the man to lead the Panthers back to the playoffs, he hasn't solidified his status as head coach to be fired in the offseason. 

A lot is up in the air over the next eight weeks, and Carolina's win-loss record will likely decide the future of the franchise.