Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday in an exclusive phone interview with The Observer he was “surprised” by the firing of general manager Dave Gettleman on Monday but that he still believed the Panthers would be a playoff contender this year.
I also asked Rivera if he thought his own job was in jeopardy.
“No,” the coach said. “But it’s football. You’ve got to be productive. I’ve got to get us back on track…. I’m going to work hard to do that, as is our coaching staff.”
Rivera said he had no input of any sort into Gettleman’s firing and was not informed of it until Monday morning, which was just a few hours before the Panthers released the news on the team website.
Rivera praised Gettleman but the coach also did not say anything that could be construed as disagreeing with owner Jerry Richardson’s decision to fire the GM on the eve of Carolina’s training camp in Spartanburg.
Said Rivera: “The decision was made, and that’s what we’re going to do…. The biggest thing is Dave did a great job for us. He helped me to grow as a coach, he helped to put the final pieces of the puzzle together and he helped us get to the Super Bowl.”
Rivera also said he and Gettleman had spoken Monday after the decision to fire the GM had been made and that Gettleman was “in a good spot.” The coach added that he and Gettleman never had a personal conflict, even when disagreeing about the merits of a particular player.
“No matter how tense things got, we always talked our way through it,” Rivera said. “I talked to Dave yesterday because I wanted to make sure he knew I appreciated everything he did for me.”
As for why Gettleman was suddenly fired, Rivera said: “I’m the wrong person to ask.”
In 2013, when Gettleman was hired as Carolina’s GM, he and Richardson decided to keep Rivera as their head coach. Since then, the Panthers have gone 43-26-1, winning three NFC South titles and making it to one Super Bowl.
Rivera said almost all of the coaches’ work preparing for next week’s training camp was done – and that he believed the Panthers – who went a disappointing 6-10 last season after a three-year playoff run – could return to prominence.
“The key is we have to play to our potential,” Rivera said. “We’ve also got a group of young guys that have to grow up, and we need to make sure Cam (Newton) is completely healthy again. ... But we can be a very good team.”