At 5 pm eastern time, the Carolina Panthers introduced Ron Rivera as the fourth head coach in franchise history.
Rivera, who will take over as a head coach for the first time in his career after serving as a defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears (2004-2006) and San Diego Chargers (2008-2010), signed a four-year, $11.5 million contract.
How refreshing it was to hear a new voice and opinion speaking to the Charlotte media. Not once did I hear old adages of "it is what it is," or any other number of old "Fox-isms" that Panthers fans have become so accustomed to over the last nine years.
During his press conference, Rivera spoke about how he will be a hands-on coach, especially with the defense, which, as we all know, is his forte. When asked about what kind of personnel he will seek in his coaching staff, from coordinators to position coaches, Rivera stated, "I am looking for guys that are going to coach...and teach."
As it stands, the defense will predominantly remain a 4-3 scheme. However, Rivera did say that the possibility of mixing some 3-4 style in there at times will be explored, and if successful, implemented to keep opposing teams' offenses, especially within the division, off-balance.
Overall, Rivera is satisfied with the offensive player-personnel. He likes the trio of tight ends, and stated that during the offseason, the possibility of utilizing one of the tight ends more than in the past will be explored. However, keeping one eye on the ground and another to the sky, tight ends via free agency and through the draft will also be taken into consideration if they possess a skill set or talent that meets Rivera's and his coordinator's specifications.
On Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen, Rivera suggested that the criticism on the young signal-caller was a bit premature considering Clausen himself was a rookie, playing with fellow rookies behind a banged-up offensive line, and put in a rather uncomfortable situation right from the get-go.
Rivera and his coaching staff will take the time necessary to properly evaluate and coach Clausen. If it doesn't seem like that situation is going to work out, then they will look within the depth at quarterback for that franchise player.
Rivera also spoke highly of second-year receivers Brandon LaFell and David Gettis, saying, "I don't remember their names, but number 11 and number 12, they are exciting players." Of course one Steve Smith, a.k.a. "89," didn't go unmentioned, as Rivera said that he looked forward to meeting with and speaking to Smith, also stating that he's still one of the most electrifying receivers in the league.
Rivera also said how he is happy to be the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, and that with the amount of youth on the team, it was really a good situation, because it allows a team to gain more depth. If the team doesn't have the experience right away, it will have depth and he seemed very excited to have that at his disposal as.
When asked about the defense and how it will be expected to perform, Rivera responded that it will be an attacking style of defense, and more aggressive.
When asked about his biggest influence while being in the NFL, Rivera's first response was his best: Mike Ditka, whom Rivera played under and won a Super Bowl with during his playing days with the Chicago Bears. He then shared a quote that Ditka imposed on his Bears team that stuck with Rivera throughout his career in the NFL.
"The game doesn't owe us anything; we owe to the game. And to the people."
I don't know about most Panthers fans, but I am very excited to see where this goes and am thankful the Panthers landed a head coach who, in the past, has turned away or been denied nine previous offers and attempts.
This press conference was a breath of fresh air. It was like opening all the windows in the house on the first warm day following a long, cold winter: and it's barely January.
Now onto the 2011 NFL Draft, and that No. 1 overall pick held by Rivera and the Carolina Panthers!