The Carolina Panthers (7-9) wrapped up the 2012 NFL football season by winning four games in a row, including Sunday's 44-38 road win over the New Orleans Saints, and five of their final six after starting the season with a 2-8 record.
Carolina's one-game improvement over last season's record and its strong finish is evidence that Ron Rivera and his coaching staff made progress over the course of the past six weeks.
However, the Panthers' late-season winning streak may have been too little, too late to save Rivera's job as Carolina's head coach.
As recently as Thanksgiving, it appeared certain that Rivera would coach his final Panthers football against the Saints on Sunday.
However, Carolina's success against two divisional opponents and a pair of AFC East teams in the past four weeks may have been enough to earn the current coaching staff one more season in Charlotte.
General Manager Comes First
Before any decisions or announcements are made regarding Rivera's future with the Panthers, Jerry Richardson will likely hire a general manager to replace Marty Hurney, who was fired following Carolina's Week 6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
According to Carolina Huddle, the New York Giants' director of college scouting, Marc Ross; the Baltimore Ravens' assistant general manager Eric DeCosta; and the San Francisco 49ers' director of player personnel, Tom Gamble, are at the top of Ernie Accorsi's list of replacement GMs.
Ross could be the first of the candidates to be interviewed now that the Panthers' and Giants' seasons are both over.
The longer Carolina remains without a GM, and the longer Rivera stays in place as Carolina's head coach, the more likely he is to get one more year on the job to lead the Panthers to the playoffs.
Chip Kelly and Andy Reid are among the names that have been batted around the most and seem like the most reasonable candidates to replace Rivera if Richardson and the new GM decide to let him go.
Oregon's head coach, Kelly, is one of the most innovative offensive coaches in football, but heading into the Fiesta Bowl, he has been non-committal regarding his interest in coaching in the NFL.
Reid, who CSNPhilly.com reported will be fired as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, is an ideal candidate to work with Cam Newton and a young Panthers team that struggled to win close games this season which would have landed them in the playoffs.
Reid guided Philadelphia to four consecutive NFC Championship games (2002 to 2005) and one Super Bowl in his 14 years as the Eagles head coach.
However, 2013 may be too early for Reid to return to coaching after losing his son to a drug overdose at the Eagles training camp in August.
Jimmy Grappone is a featured columnist for B/R and the founder and editor of Charlotte Sports Hub (www.charlottesportshub.com).
Follow on Twitter @jimmygrappone and @cltsportshub.
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