So far this off-season, the one question everyone has been asking about the Carolina Panthers is about Cam Newton. Will his shoulder hold up? The franchise quarterback had surgery on his throwing shoulder back in January after injuring it during the 2018 season. Newton has made great strides since then, and the team believes he will be ready to throw come training camp.
Despite this, the biggest question mark for the Panthers is *not* Newton. Nor is it Newton’s health. The biggest question mark for Carolina is their head coach, Ron Rivera.
Ron Rivera is the Biggest Question Mark for the Carolina Panthers
Rivera has been an enigma since being named head coach of the Panthers back in 2011. He has won two Coach of the Year awards, but has never had back-to-back winning seasons. He has made the playoffs four times, and the Super Bowl once, but has yet to help the team claim their first Super Bowl win. Viewed as a “players’ coach,” he does not act like one, as he consistently throws his players under the bus, absolving himself of any guilt. With 2019 being a make-or-break season for this franchise, the same is true of Rivera. Should the Panthers miss the playoffs once again, Rivera may have to find a new job.
The Panthers have been the model of inconsistency since Rivera became the head coach in 2011. As aforementioned, they have never posted back-to-back winning seasons. Rivera has led the team to the following records during his tenure as the head coach: 6-10, 7-9, 12-4, 7-8-1, 15-1, 6-10, 11-5, 7-9. A total record of 71-56-1, Rivera has had generational talent on each of his teams. Newton, Luke Kuechly, Steve Smith, and Julius Peppers are among said talent, but the team was never able to get over the hump.
A team can have all the talent in the world, but without the proper coaching, talent does not equal wins. Carolina is a prime example of this. The coaching is to blame for Carolina’s inconsistency, and Rivera is at the forefront of this.
Failure to Adjust
In-game adjustments separate the good coaches from the great ones. Take New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick for example. Belichick has always been a great coach due in part to the fact he is never afraid to deviate from a game plan. From game to game, year to year, the Patriots are always trying different things, thanks to Belichick. This is something Rivera sorely lacks.
Time after time, Rivera and his game plans are exposed, but he refuses to change things up. His need to stick to the script is what causes the team to falter. 2018 is the best example of this. During a seven-game losing streak, Rivera was out-coached and out-schemed in each game. Failure to make any adjustments in between quarters led to the team going stale on the field. Despite the losses piling up, Rivera felt the need to stay the course. Instead of doing what a better coach would do, and attempt to change things up, Rivera stuck to his guns, and it cost the team.
Over the course of his career, Rivera has only changed things up when his job was on the line. Take 2013 for example. After winning only 13 games in his first two seasons, the Panthers began the 2013 campaign with a 1-3 record. Many reports indicated that if Rivera’s squad did not improve, he would be out of town. Rivera then decided to become the aggressor on offense, earning the moniker “Riverboat Ron,” due to his constant gambles by going for it on fourth and short. The simple change was enough to get Carolina to the playoffs, only to lose in their first game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Once 2014 came around, Rivera reverted back to his conservative approach, which led to Caroline once again ending their season with a losing record. The only reason they made the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record was due to the fact the rest of the NFC South was completely incompetent. The team defeated the hapless Arizona Cardinalsin the first round, but lost to the eventual NFC champion Seattle Seahawks in the next round.
2015 was an outlier year for Rivera and the Panthers, due to Cam Newton’s incredible MVP season and the fact the defense was on another level. Rivera was exposed once again in 2016, when the same team that had just won the NFC fell apart and went 6-10. All in all, a look at his overall body of work shows a coach who fails to make adjustments.
Sticking to the Vets
Perhaps the biggest blunder of his coaching career, Rivera has always seemed to favor playing aging veterans over younger, more talented players. Why he does this is befuddling, to say the least. Look at the Panthers’ recent first round draft picks, Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore, as well as their other early round picks, Curtis Samuel and Taylor Moton. 2018 proved just how valuable each of these players are to the Panthers. However, none of them started at their respectable positions until something happened to the starters.
Moore and Samuel, a young pair of dynamic wide receivers, sat behind Devin Funchess and Torrey Smith until Smith was injured and Funchess was no longer an asset. Taylor Moton did not start at offensive tackle until Matt Kalil was injured. Finally, McCaffrey sat behind Jonathan Stewart during the entire 2017 season, despite being picked number eight overall. His first year starting? He had nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards and was the best player on the team.
Rivera feels a strange compulsion to keep young talent on the bench for as long as possible. If he wants to avoid another collapse, he should ensure the team’s newest first-round pick, Brian Burns, starts immediately.
Last Word on Ron Rivera
Overall, the Carolina Panthers have a number of question marks going into the 2019 season. None, however, are bigger than their own head coach. New owner David Tepper has already said he will remain patient with Rivera. However, another collapse like 2018 may just make Tepper lose said patience, and make Rivera lose his job.
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