HONOLULU It looks like the Panthers want to keep rolling with Riverboat Ron.
On the heels of their best season in five years, the Panthers have reached out to third-year coach Ron Rivera to begin negotiations on a contract extension, a league source told the Observer on Sunday.
Rivera, 52, led the Panthers to a 12-4 regular-season record, along with the NFC South title and the team’s first playoff berth since 2008.
Rivera, the coach of Jerry Rice’s team in Sunday’s Pro Bowl, signed a four-year deal worth $11.2 million when he was hired by former general manager Marty Hurney before the 2011 season.
The Panthers could give Rivera a one-year extension to remove his lame-duck status. But considering the New York Jets recently agreed to an incentive-laden, multiyear extension with coach Rex Ryan, who has missed the playoffs the last three seasons, a long-term extension seems more likely for Rivera.
Two organizations named Rivera their Coach of the Year, including the Pro Football Writers of America. Rivera is one of the favorites for the same honor from the Associated Press.
The Panthers went a combined 13-19 in Rivera’s two first seasons, when they lost 12 of 14 games decided by a touchdown or less.
When the Panthers started the 2013 season 0-2, there were questions about Rivera’s job security. According to an NFL.com report in early October, the Panthers had begun background work on potential head-coaching candidates.
After a Week 5 loss at Arizona dropped the Panthers to 1-3, Rivera became more aggressive in his fourth-down philosophy, beginning with an Oct. 13 win at Minnesota. The victory against the Vikings helped earn him the “Riverboat Ron” nickname and started an 8-game winning streak for the Panthers, who won 11 of their final 12 games to earn a first-round playoff bye.
Two days after San Francisco eliminated the Panthers in the NFC divisional round, Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said he had the “ultimate faith” in Rivera.
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