Several teams have gotten a jump-start this year on Black Monday, the day when some NFL coaches move from the hot seat to the unemployment line.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, one year removed from a Super Bowl season and his second Coach of the Year award, isn’t in any danger. Rivera’s assistant coaches also are safe, according to him.
Rivera said Friday he doesn’t anticipate making any staff changes, despite the team’s disappointing season a year after the franchise’s second Super Bowl berth. The Panthers (6-9) close the season Sunday at Tampa Bay after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
“Remember, this is the same group that was 15-1. The same group that led the league in scoring. In the last five years we’ve had a top-10 defense (four times),” Rivera said.
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Questions about the job security of offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey have cropped up in the wake of quarterback Cam Newton’s regression following his MVP season of 2015.
Unless he posts a 148.0 passer rating and completes an NFL-record 58-for-58 passes in Sunday’s finale at Tampa Bay, Newton will finish with the lowest completion percentage and passer rating of his six-year career.
Rivera was asked whether decisions on his assistant coaches were exclusively his or if general manager Dave Gettleman had a say in the direction of the staff.
“That’s mine,” Rivera said.
While Rivera does not anticipate making changes, he has talked about the need for the Panthers’ offense to evolve, particularly where Newton is concerned.
“As I look at it and break things down, yeah there’s some things we have to work on and change,” Rivera said. “You guys have heard me talk about evolving. We have to. That’s just the truth of the matter. So there’s a lot of things we’re going to look at and break down as we go forward.”
Rivera told the team’s website this week the Panthers need to find ways to extend Newton’s career by cutting down on the number of designed runs and zone-read plays, a process that already has begun.
Rivera also said he wants to see more quick-hitting passes from Newton, while adding more rollouts to reduce the number of hits Newton takes in the pocket.
Given Rivera’s comments about not shaking up his staff, it certainly sounds as if Shula and Dorsey will be part of that evolution process.
Meanwhile, Rivera said he hopes defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will get to interview for head-coaching vacancies again. McDermott has been a candidate for several openings in recent years, including the Tampa Bay and Cleveland jobs after last season.
“I think it’d be cool,” Rivera said. “I think he’s earned it.”
Beginning in 2012 and continuing through the Super Bowl season last year, McDermott was the only coordinator in the league to oversee a top-10 defense four years in a row.
With a pair of rookie cornerbacks in the starting lineup and playing without their best defensive player (linebacker Luke Kuechly) the final six games, the Panthers have slipped to No. 22 in total defense this season.
Carolina has the league’s lowest-ranked passing defense.
But Rivera said McDermott’s body of work is impressive.
“I know this year wasn’t what we wanted with all the injuries and the change and all that kind of stuff. But if you go back and look at all the things he’s accomplished here, I think his resume should speak for itself,” Rivera said.
“Sometimes when you hire people I think you need to look at not whether or not they’re the hot guy, but what they’ve done consistently over a period of time,” he added. “And you go back to his time in Philadelphia and his time here, he’s been around a lot of consistency.”
Rivera was not interested in discussing an NFL.com report last week that mentioned him as a coach who could be a good fit for the Los Angeles Rams’ job. Rivera’s agent told the Observer there’s been no contact between Rivera and the Rams, and Rivera is happy in Carolina.
“Hah, please. No, no, no,” Rivera said Friday. “I’m not gonna talk about that because I’ve got nothing to do with that. I don’t have any desire to talk about or get involved with something like that.”