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Rivera’s fate must be new GM's to decide

 Coach Ron Rivera said owner Jerry Richardson will decide whether he continues to coach the Panthers. But that decision has to be the general manager’s.

    I respect Ron Rivera, the Carolina Panthers’ second-year head coach. If he doesn’t coach the Panthers next season, I hope, after another stint as a defensive coordinator, he becomes a head coach for another NFL team.

     But he said something this week I challenge.

    Rivera said Carolina owner Jerry Richardson will decide whether he continues to coach the Panthers.

     The decision has to be the general manager’s.

    Richardson fired former general manager Marty Hurney on Oct. 22, the day after Carolina’s loss to Dallas. Hurney’s replacement will run the organization. He’ll invest the team with his vision, his philosophy and his people. He, more than anybody, will dictate the future of the team.

    He can’t make his living saying yes sir, Mr. Richardson, was that one cream and one sugar?  

     Richardson, obviously, will remain an integral part of the decision-making process. He knows the sport; he played college and professional football and has owned the Panthers since 1995.

      If I bought a newspaper, not a paper but the paper, I’d hire somebody to run it. But I’d also insist on being privy to essential decisions. And if there was a decision I couldn’t stand, I’d reject it. It would be my paper more than anybody else’s.

      The Panthers are Richardson’s team more than anybody else's. They’re a reflection of him more than any coach or player. Contrary to the recent and anonymous open letter in Monday’s Observer, Richardson wants to win as badly as anybody in the team's offices and locker room.

       So he’s entitled to input. If you owned a business, you’d want some, too.

       But if Richardson limits the power of the general manager, he'll get a limited candidate.

       Imagine going to a prospect and saying, “You can run the team. But you can’t decide who will coach it.”

      Why would a credible prospect take the job?

       Hurney’s philosophy was compatible with Richardson's. There are many people, including some I respect, who contend Richardson made personnel decisions and Hurney merely executed them.

     I don’t believe it. In fact, I’d be shocked if it were true.

       Richardson was more likely to make decisions in the 1990s and early 2000s than he is now. I know, for example, that Richardson was a proponent of North Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers.

     Would the Panthers have taken Peppers with the second pick in the 2002 draft if Richardson had not made clear to Hurney and new head coach John Fox that he wanted him?

      I think so. 

In 2011, the vast majority of mock drafts had Fox, in his first draft with the Denver Broncos, investing the second pick on Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. In the Observer’s mock draft I had Fox taking Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller. Like Peppers, Miller is a dynamic playmaker, and he’s already a Broncos star.

      Jerry Richardson is not Jerry Jones, the owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys. He won't run the football operation. He'll entrust it to his new general manager. If Richardson doesn’t believe the general manager is capable he shouldn’t offer him the job.

       Fox’s last season with Carolina was 2010. He knew he was out before the Panthers played their first game, and so did his employers. The Panthers had considerable time to look for a replacement. They identified Rivera long before the media, me included, knew about it.

       When I say the Panthers had a lot of time, I mean Hurney did. Hurney hired Rivera.

The owner didn’t hire Rivera. The general manager did.

        The general manager needs to determine if Rivera stays.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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