The Panthers took care of their first order of offseason business Tuesday, signing coach Ron Rivera to a three-year contract extension that could keep “Riverboat Ron” in Charlotte through the 2017 season.
Rivera, 52, guided the Panthers to a 12-win season, the NFC South title and their first playoff berth in five years in 2013. He was entering the final year of a four-year contract and faced the prospect of lame-duck status.
According to a league source, Rivera will make between $4 million and $5 million a year, which is in line with the deal former Wake Forest coach Jim Caldwell received to become Detroit’s coach.
When he did not renew former coach John Fox’s contract after the 2-14 finish in 2010, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson cited Fox’s inability to post consecutive winning seasons as the reason – something no coach has done in the team’s 19-year history.
The Panthers have trended upward under Rivera, from 6-10 his first season, to 7-9 in 2011 to the 12-4 mark record in ’13.
“The improvement of our team has been reflected in the progress of the record over the last three seasons under Ron and we look forward to building upon that foundation,” Panthers owner Jerry Richardson said in a statement released by the team.
The extension for Rivera, named the league’s Coach of the Year by two organizations, is no surprise. The only question was whether it would be an incentive-laden deal like the one New York Jets coach Rex Ryan received.
A Panthers spokesman said Rivera’s extension is straightforward, with no clauses that would make it void before 2017.
Rivera’s job security was in question at the end of last season, when he was retained but three of his assistantswere fired. Rivera was thought to be on the hot seat again this season after the Panthers started 0-2 following close losses to Seattle and Buffalo.
After a loss at Arizona dropped the Panthers to 1-3, Rivera became more aggressive in his fourth-down philosophy, earning the “Riverboat” nickname, and his team gained confidence with victories against some lower-tier teams. The Panthers won 11 of their final 12 games, before falling to San Francisco 23-10 in a divisional-round, playoff game in Charlotte on Jan. 12.
During an end-of-season press conference, general manager Dave Gettleman said he had the “ultimate faith” in Rivera, one of the favorites for the Associated Press’ Coach of the Year award.
“The team has shown improvement under Ron each year and he is deserving of the recognition that he has received for the 2013 season,” said Gettleman, hired two years after Rivera’s arrival. “We are pleased and excited with the continuity this extension brings.”
Rivera’s extension came together quickly. As the Observer reported, the Panthers reached out to Rivera to begin contract talks last weekend while he was in Hawaii coaching the Pro Bowl.
By the time Rivera returned to his office Tuesday, the deal was in place and awaiting his signature.
“I have been very clear about how much I have enjoyed living in Charlotte and working for this organization,” Rivera said in the statement. “I very much appreciate the support and confidence Mr. Richardson and Dave Gettleman have shown in me and our staff. Any success we have enjoyed is the result of a team effort by players, coaches, scouts and the entire organization, and our ultimate goal remains winning the Super Bowl.”
Rivera, whose original deal was worth $11.2 million over four seasons, said recently he expects all of his assistant coaches to return next season.
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said Rivera’s extension is important for a team looking to build on this season’s success.
“I think it’s huge. If he coaches the rest of his contract that puts him here for seven years. In this league, that’s great longevity,” Olsen said. “I think what he’s demonstrated the last few years, taking over a two-win team and turning it into a 12-win team in three years, that’s solid.”
“Players love him,” Olsen added. “I think it was a no-brainer if you ask the players.”
Olsen said Rivera’s NFL background – he played nine seasons and worked his way up the coaching ranks – gives him respect in the locker room. Olsen said Rivera also is a good listener who is open to input from players, but makes it clear he is still in charge.
“Continuity in this league is hard to find,” Olsen said. “When you have something good and something guys believe in … that’s the key. And a lot of that starts with the coaches and their philosophy. I think that’s part of the reason for extending him, and we’ll see where it goes.”
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