Although discontent constantly swirls around the NFL’s slumping teams, it’s rare for an organization, especially a traditionally successful one, to fire a head coach before the end of the season.
That was the big reason many suspected nothing would happen to Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera before the end of the season – if at all.
But on Tuesday, two days after losing at home to the lowly Washington Redskins, Panthers owner David Tepper announced the firing of Rivera, a two-time NFL coach of the year who had been with the team since 2011.
“I believe this is the best decision for the long-term success of our team,” Tepper said in a statement. “I have a great deal of respect for Ron and the contributions he has made to this franchise and to this community. I wish him the best. I will immediately begin the search for the next head coach of the Carolina Panthers.”
The Panthers (5-7) have lost four straight and at this point its highly unlikely they will make the playoffs. If they miss the postseason, it will be for the third time since they played in the Super Bowl following the 2015 season.
The loss to the Redskins was one of three the Panthers have suffered at home to below-average teams; they had also lost to divisional rivals Tampa Bay and Atlanta. And there were a lot of empty seats at Sunday’s game, with the Panthers teetering on postseason elimination.
Rivera will be initially replaced by secondary coach Perry Fewell. Former NFL coach Norv Turner is the team’s offensive coordinator and certainly will take on an expanded role during the final four weeks as a special assistant to Fewell.
This is the second straight season the Panthers have faltered down the stretch. In 2018, the team began the season 6-2 before falling to 7-9. That drop was most attributed to the shoulder problem that made it virtually impossible for quarterback Cam Newton to throw the ball far downfield.
This season was much different. Newton was lost after Week 2 with a foot injury and was replaced by Kyle Allen. But after some initial success, Allen has regressed and the team has slumped badly.
Tepper has been steaming for a few weeks. After the home loss to the Falcons, he gathered the team’s media and told it he would not stand for mediocrity.
Tepper bought the franchise in 2018 for an NFL-record $2.275 billion. He has made it clear he wants to eventually build a domed stadium in the downtown Charlotte within the next decade and host Final Fours and Super Bowls.
But he’s also been clear he wants Charlotte to pick up the majority of the cost. And with the team playing poorly, and attendance beginning to dwindle, he’s likely afraid momentum, and the corporate support he will need to get the stadium built, could be lost.
So he did all he could do at this point of the season. He fired his coach.
Rivera took the Panthers to the playoffs in three straight seasons (2013-15) and is the winningest coach in the team’s history (76-63-1). You’ll recall the Panthers were 15-1 in 2015, the year they lost to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
But he only had three winning seasons in his nine years with the Panthers and his teams were inconsistent. After each winning season, the Panthers fell back: 12-4 in 2013 to 7-8 in 2014, from 15-1 in 2015 to 6-10 in 2016 and from 11-5 in 2017 to 7-9 in 2018.
On Sunday, the Panthers allowed 248 rushing yards to a Washington team that was averaging just under 86 on the season. That was the final straw.
“We are going to take a comprehensive and thorough review of our football operation to make sure we are structured for long-term sustained success,” Tepper said. “Our vision is to find the right mix of old-school discipline and toughness with modern and innovative processes. We will consider a wide range of football executives to complement our current football staff.
“One change that we will implement is hiring an assistant general manager and vice president of football operations. We all must recognize that this is the first step in a process, but we are committed to building and maintaining a championship culture for our team and our fans.”