In the NFL, the term Black Monday traditionally refers to the first Monday after the last Sunday of regular-season games. Its the day when a handful and sometimes a double handful of NFL head coaches get fired. This season it falls on Dec. 31.
But the Carolina Panthers have gotten an early start. They have begun to hold a Black Monday about once a month.
On Monday, Oct. 22, it was general manager Marty Hurney getting fired by team owner Jerry Richardson after Carolina started 1-5. On the second Monday in November, with Carolina at 2-7, it was special teams coordinator Brian Murphy getting the ax from head coach Ron Rivera.
On Dec. 31 well, who knows? But its a measure of Riveras dire situation that he felt compelled to make this move nine games into the Panthers season and one day after the team was blasted 36-14 at home by Denver.
The special teams gave up a 76-yard punt return touchdown Sunday and were generally awful, for sure. But if that were the only criteria, Rivera could have fired Murphy a dozen times in 2011. Moving special-teams assistant coach Richard Rodgers into the No. 1 coaching job on the unit is unlikely to have a dramatic effect the players he will coach are the same, after all.
But, nevertheless, I agree with the move. Rivera needs to do something with his staff. The Panthers special teams have been either very bad, sort of bad or mediocre throughout most of Murphys tenure. The head coach cited philosophical differences and productivity as his reasoning.
This is not the sort of life preserver move Rivera needs to save his job, and he and everyone else knows he is coaching to hold onto it over these final seven games. Only wins can be that life preserver preferably a series of them so Rivera can show Richardson the team is trending upward, to use the coachs phrase, rather than treading water.
Carolina is 8-17 since Rivera took over in 2011. Most disturbingly, the Panthers are 1-10 in his tenure in games decided by 7 points or fewer.
Now what about Rodgers? Well, he shares a name with the American composer who co-wrote Oklahoma, South Pacific and The Sound of Music. But hes not that guy, and the Panthers are not going to hire Hammerstein as offensive coordinator, either.
This is the Richard Rodgers who was Riveras college teammate at California and part of the five-lateral-running-into-the-band affair called The Play that beat Stanford in 1982. This is his first year in the NFL after a couple of decades coaching at mid-sized colleges, so theres really no telling how Rodgers will do.
Rodgers certainly should shake things up a little, though. Punter Brad Nortman has had an inconsistent season, although at this point he will likely be allowed to finish out the year. How did Nortman whiff on the tackle on the 76-yard punt return TD, though?
Captain Munnerlyn is a good nickel back but an uninspiring punt returner he needs to be replaced ASAP. Joe Adams has been banished to the bench long enough for his fumbling transgressions. Its time to give the rookie another shot at kickoffs and punts.
Rivera is one of the nicest guys Ive ever met in sports, and Im sure it hurt him to fire somebody he hired less than two years ago. But among many other things, the coach also has to show hes capable of a tough decision even when it involves his own staff.
The changes in Pantherville have not ended. But I dont think its a foregone conclusion that Rivera will be following Murphy out the door on the real Black Monday in seven weeks. I think the coach still has a sliver of hope. And making a difficult decision like this widened that sliver just a little.