The Carolina Panthers have made no statement that confirms nor denies my sentiment here, but with their 44-38 win in New Orleans over the Saints, head coach Ron Rivera saved his job and will be back at the helm in Charlotte in 2013.
The Panthers started the 2012 season losing six of their first seven games. The coaching staff was criticized for not managing the talent pool on the roster correctly, and general manager Marty Hurney was relieved of his duties.
A Week 9 win over the Washington Redskins stopped the bleeding, temporarily, but then Carolina went on the lose three of its next four games.
Players were bickering on the sideline. They were also calling out the coaching staff. No one on the planet—me included—thought Rivera could do anything to save his job, and quite frankly, I felt he was lucky that team owner Jerry Richardson let him stay on until the end of the season.
But during this time period of chaos and doubt, something strange happened.
Signal-caller Cam Newton went from turnover-crazy, moping-with-a-towel-on-his-head anti-leader to MVP-quality quarterback. He had turned the ball over 13 times (10 interceptions and three fumbles) through 10 games.
From Week 11 on, which includes Sunday’s game, Newton threw just two interceptions and didn’t fumble once. He threw 11 touchdowns in those seven games compared to just eight in the nine prior.
You’d better believe that Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski played a big part in Newton’s turnaround.
But more important than Newton’s turnaround and Carolina’s four-game winning streak to end the season, Rivera deserves a shot to come back and coach in 2013 because he started utilizing the talent on this roster properly.
Proof of that can be found by looking at Carolina’s Week 17 win over the Saints.
The Panthers spent $89.211 million putting together one of the best running back corps in the league. But DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert weren’t producing like a trio worth almost $90 million should. It wasn’t as much their effort or results on the field as it was the way the coaching staff was calling plays.
On Sunday, Rivera showed he realized his mistake and knew how to fix it.
Williams ran for 210 yards on 27 carries and scored two touchdowns. Tolbert added three touchdowns and 25 yards on 10 carries. Stewart was inactive due to an injury, but five touchdowns and 37 carries from the running backs Sunday means Rivera is ready to get use out of all the money Carolina spent.
With Newton growing as a quarterback and Rivera calling games effectively, I believe he should be back in 2013. The new Rivera won four games in a row. Imagine how many of those close games—Carolina lost seven games by less than a touchdown—this team would have won had Rivera been preparing his team and coaching like this since Week 1.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.