Ron Rivera was finally given an opportunity to be an NFL head coach after several years as one of the league's top defensive coordinators when the Carolina Panthers hired him in 2011. Now, his future in that role is more secure after he signed a three-year extension Tuesday, Jan. 28, according to the Panthers' official Twitter account:
Joe Person of The Charlotte Observer provides the terms of the deal:
Per league source, Ron Rivera's extension is worth between $4 million and $5 million a yr -- in line with deal the Lions gave Jim Caldwell.— Joe Person (@josephperson) January 28, 2014
Running back DeAngelo Williams praised the team's decision:
Well deserved!!!! RT @AdamSchefter: Panthers announced HC Ron Rivera has signed a three-year contract extension.— DeAngelo Williams (@DeAngeloRB) January 28, 2014
Rivera appeared to land in an advantageous position when he signed in 2011, as the Panthers selected quarterback Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2011 draft. Newton looked like the real deal right away, but the team simply didn't come along as quickly as anticipated. After going 6-10 in 2011 and 7-9 in 2012, though, the team took a huge leap forward this past season with a 12-4 regular-season record.
Owner Jerry Richardson expressed a great deal of satisfaction with the Panthers' progress since Rivera took the reins, per Max Henson of Panthers.com.
The improvement of our team has been reflected in the progress of the record over the last three seasons under Ron, and we look forward to building upon that foundation.
The Panthers got off to a rough start in 2013, but Rivera regained control of the ship by leading them on a late-season run that resulted in an NFC South title and the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport acknowledged that Rivera's teams have gotten off to slow starts in Carolina, but believes that the Panthers made the right decision:
Ron Rivera started 1-5 in 2011, 1-6 in 2012 and 1-3 in 2013. But #Panthers turned into a force this year by sticking with him. Well-earned— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 28, 2014
Rivera was criticized for his conservative style, which led directly to a loss against the Buffalo Bills early in the year, but he later changed his philosophy and became known as "Riverboat Ron" due to his penchant for going for it on fourth down.
The turnaround that Rivera experienced as a coach from the beginning of 2013 to the end of it was arguably more impressive than the Panthers' progression as a team. By the end of the campaign, Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman paid Rivera a huge compliment, according to David Newton of ESPN.com.
"I have ultimate faith in Ron moving forward. How’s that?" Gettleman said when asked about Rivera's future with the team.
Rivera went to Carolina with a great deal of pressure on his shoulders as just the fourth Latino head coach in NFL history. After leading the Panthers to such a huge turnaround in 2013, he may very well have opened doors for minority candidates around the league moving forward.
Was extending Rivera the right decision by the Panthers?
The former Chicago Bears linebacker was part of one of the greatest defenses in NFL history in 1985, and he served as the Bears' defensive coordinator from 2004 through 2006 as well. That defense also happened to be historically good, so Rivera unquestionably has a great mind for that side of the ball.
There were questions about Rivera's ability to oversee an entire team after two seasons at the helm in Carolina, but those questions were ultimately answered. Not only did Rivera help the Panthers become one of the best defensive teams in the league, but he also learned how to tailor the offense to Newton's strengths.
Some might argue that Rivera's run-and-stop-the-run mentality stifled Newton at times, but Rivera had to play with the hand he was dealt. Carolina sunk a lot of money into running backs Williams and Jonathan Stewart, while wide receiver was largely neglected aside from veteran Steve Smith.
With that in mind, it will be up to Gettleman and the rest of the Panthers' front office to bring in the players necessary for Rivera to succeed in the future. According to Henson, Rivera has his sights set on winning it all:
I have been very clear about how much I have enjoyed living in Charlotte and working for this organization. I very much appreciate the support and confidence Mr. Richardson and Dave Gettleman have shown in me and our staff. Any success we have enjoyed is the result of a team effort by players, coaches, scouts and the entire organization, and our ultimate goal remains winning the Super Bowl.
The Panthers can't get much better as a regular-season team in 2014, but they must prove that they can beat top teams like the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers come playoff time. Carolina was handled quite easily by San Francisco at home a few weeks ago, but that is all part of the Panthers' progression.
Carolina certainly has an opportunity to be an elite team due to its defense, but Newton is key as well. Newton didn't make huge leaps statistically in 2013; however, his grasp on the offense seemed better, and he is clearly becoming a better leader as well.
Now that Rivera has gained his footing and has some semblance of job security moving forward, the Panthers should be a contending team for a long time to come.
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