The Panthers are still in the market for a general manager, but they wont be looking for a new coach.
Ron Rivera has been retained following a long-anticipated meeting with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson on Saturday, a team spokesman said.
Rivera, 13-19 in two seasons in Charlotte, has two years remaining on the four-year, $11.2 million contract he signed in January 2011 when he succeeded John Fox.
Riveras future became an issue over the final 10 weeks of the season after Richardson fired general manager Marty Hurney in October, telling Rivera he wanted to see the team trend upward.
The Panthers (7-9) won five of their past six games, including their final four in a row, to finish in second place in the NFC South, a game better than Riveras first season. The winning streak was the longest since 2008, the last time the Panthers made the playoffs.
Rivera waited six days following last weekends 44-38 win at New Orleans for his meeting with Richardson. Rivera, who turns 51 on Monday, said all along he believed he had the owners support.
After Richardson met with Rivera on Saturday morning, the owner called team spokesman Charlie Dayton to tell him Rivera was returning for another season. Dayton called reporters, but said Richardson would not issue a statement or be available for comment.
Rivera did not return messages left Saturday.
Prior to Saturdays meeting, Panthers players and assistant coaches were not sure whether Rivera would keep his job, although they thought the strong finish worked in his favor.
We knew Mr. Richardson wanted to see the team headed in the right direction, and Im sure the way we finished helped coach keep his job, veteran offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner said.
Im excited, Hangartner said. I think its the right thing. Im happy hell be coming back. I think hes done a good job and will continue to do so.
Despite tying a team record by placing 18 players on injured reserve including five starters the Panthers were 10th in the league in total defense, and 12th in total offense.
The Panthers struggled in close games for the second year in a row. The win at New Orleans improved Riveras record to 2-12 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
But Rivera pointed to the development of quarterback Cam Newton, the improvement of the defense following Luke Kuechlys shift from outside to middle linebacker and big plays in all three phases as signs of the teams growth.
Over the final seven games, Newton accounted for 15 touchdowns with only two turnovers. He set a team record by throwing 176 consecutive passes without an interception, and became more adept at reading defenses, changing plays at the line of scrimmage and making check-down throws.
Carolina players said the staff continuity will benefit the entire team, including Newton. The 2012 season was the first time in five years that Newton did not have to learn a new offensive system, dating to his second year at Florida.
I think stability and continuity is a great thing in the NFL, Hangartner said. Youre tweaking little things rather than learning a whole new offense, and obviously the defense is the same way. I think thats helpful for everybody.
Fullback Mike Tolbert said his decision to sign with the Panthers as a free agent last offseason was influenced greatly by Rivera, San Diegos defensive coordinator when Tolbert played for the Chargers. Tolbert is looking forward to another season in Rob Chudzinskis offense.
I think its going to be huge for us with Cam being in same offense another year, Tolbert said. With Jonathan (Stewart) getting healthy, with Steve (Smith) doing what he does, with the offensive line getting healthy, its going to be great. Its going to be good for everybody.
GM INTERVIEWS BEGIN MONDAY
With Riveras future settled, the Panthers next turn their attention to finding Hurneys successor. They will interview five to six candidates beginning Monday a list that includes interim GM Brandon Beane, a pair of New York Giants executives, a member of Minnesotas front office and, potentially, a longtime Canadian Football League GM.
Beane, 36, was Hurneys top assistant for several years before taking over for him in October. Beane has served in a variety of roles since joining the Panthers in 1998.
All of the external candidates who have been identified have scouting backgrounds, most from the pro scouting side. Vikings assistant GM George Paton is among those scheduled to interview, Fox Sports Jay Glazer reported Saturday.
Paton interviewed for St. Louis GM vacancy last year before accepting a promotion to remain with the Vikings.
With former New York Giants GM Ernie Accorsi consulting on the search, the Panthers also have asked permission to speak to Giants senior pro personnel analyst Dave Gettleman and director of college scouting Marc Ross.
Montreal Alouettes GM Jim Popp also is likely to get an interview, according to ESPN.coms Pat Yasinskas. Over the past 19 years in the CFL, each of Popps teams has made the playoffs, with four winning Grey Cup titles.
Popps coaching career included stops at North Carolina and The Citadel. He and his family live in Mooresville.
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