Carolina Panthers

Ron Rivera wants to be with Panthers in 2019. He doesn’t know if David Tepper agrees.

Ron Rivera’s future with the Carolina Panthers has come into question during the team’s current six-game losing streak, with fans and media publicly wondering whether the team wants him back for the 2019 season.

While those questions remain, there’s no doubt the former NFL Coach of the Year would be back on the Panthers’ sideline next season were it up to him.

“I’m very happy where I am,” Rivera said Monday. “I really do appreciate my place here on this football team and in this city and in this community.”

Fewer than 12 hours after his team lost its Monday Night Football matchup with the New Orleans Saints, the eighth-year head coach returned to Bank of America Stadium and fielded questions varying from the status of Cam Newton’s shoulder to the frustrations of a once-promising season spiraling into oblivion.

He remained mired in coach-speak on some topics but Rivera made a few things clear: He wants to be in Carolina — he just doesn’t if he will be.

And he hates being asked about it.

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Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera challenges the spot of an offensive play while playing against the New Orleans Saints during the first half at Bank of America Stadium on Monday, December 17, 2018. The Saints won, 12-9. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

“Oh, absolutely I (hate questions about job security),” he said. “Because I don’t know, I can’t tell you. I really can’t. I’ve been through it a couple of times my first two seasons but at the end of the day, it comes down to one person — and that’s the only one who knows.”

That one person, of course, is Panthers owner David Tepper, who at least one national outlet reported is growing restless with the team’s recent performance. Rivera initiated a shake up in the Panthers’ coaching staff with Tepper’s blessing following their loss to Tampa Bay in Week 13, firing two assistant coaches while taking control of the defensive playcalling.

But when it comes to the issue of his own future, Rivera suggested the conversation between himself, Tepper and general manager Marty Hurney hasn’t happened — yet.

“We’ll do what we always do,” Rivera said. “We communicate constantly — Marty, (Tepper) and I, we talk constantly. So when the moment’s appropriate (we’ll meet).”

If Tepper were to part ways with Rivera at the end of the season, the Panthers’ fall from grace after a 6-2 start would likely be the reason. At one point considered a challenger to the Saints in the NFC South, the Panthers were blown out by Pittsburgh in Week 10 before losing one-score games to Detroit, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and, on Monday night, New Orleans.

They’re still mathematically alive in the NFC wild-card race — although a loss in either of their next two games would officially end those already-slim hopes. Even if they do win out, the Panthers will also need nothing short of a comedy of errors to occur over the next two weeks in order to secure one of the two wild-card spots.

Rivera said Monday’s game was the first time he felt comfortable calling plays again. Considering Carolina held the Saints to fewer than 14 points for just the 14th time in the 172-game Drew Brees era. That should inspire confidence on that side of the ball.

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Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, right, looks on as the defense tries to stop the New Orleans Saints late in the game at Bank of America Stadium on Monday, December 17, 2018. The Saints won, 12-9. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

On the other hand, Carolina turned in a historic defensive performance and still lost. With remaining games against Atlanta and New Orleans to close out the season, an eight-game losing streak after a 6-2 start would mark the first in NFL history and could mean the end of Rivera’s time in Charlotte — or at the very least, put him on a scalding-hot seat entering the 2019 season.

“Tough game,” he said. “Tough stretch, tough season. It all kind of blends itself together.

“I’m getting ready for Atlanta and that’s the best thing I can do.”

With his future with the team out of his hands, that’s the only thing he can do.

Marcel Louis-Jacques, 705-358-5015: @Marcel_LJ
Marcel Louis-Jacques covers the Carolina Panthers for the Charlotte Observer, keeping you on top of Panthers news both on the field and behind the scenes. He is a 2014 graduate of Arizona State University and grew up in Sacramento, California.
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