Carolina Panthers

Source: More changes coming to Panthers staff, but one thing will stay the same

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera took over the defensive play-calling in full during the team’s loss to Tampa Bay in Week 13 of the 2018 season.

He’ll keep that duty in 2019.

According to a source with knowledge of the matter, Rivera will be the Panthers’ defensive play-caller through the 2019 season while still retaining his head coaching duties.

Last Thursday, Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney returned from a multi-day series of meetings with first-year team owner David Tepper at his offices in New Jersey, according to a league source. The source characterized the meetings as positive and constructive.

Multiple sources have confirmed over the past two weeks that Rivera and Hurney will return for the 2019 season, though that also seemed a forgone conclusion when neither was relieved of his duties after the regular-season finale, a 33-14 victory at New Orleans. on Dec. 30.

After losing two defensive coordinators to NFL head coaching jobs in as many years, Rivera promoted former defensive line coach Eric Washington to the position last winter.

The Panthers gave up 353 yards per game in the first 12 games of 2018, and 353.7 per game for the final four games after Rivera took over.

But the Panthers also played their best defensive game of the season in a 12-9 loss to New Orleans in Week 15. And seven of the team’s nine losses were by seven points or less.

Calling the defensive plays appeared to energize Rivera, a former defensive coordinator in San Diego and Chicago. Keeping that duty makes sense if Rivera, under contract through the 2020 season, wants to control as much as he can to turn things around after a 7-9 season that included a seven-game losing streak.

Rivera has stated in the past that he feels comfortable turning over more control of the offense to coordinator Norv Turner. With three decades of coordinating and head coaching experience, Turner in 2018 re-vamped the Panthers’ offense behind quarterback Cam Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey.

Elsewhere in the division, new coaching staffs are publicly taking shape. The Atlanta Falcons hired former Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter as their offensive coordinator on Tuesday afternoon. And the Buccaneers announced the hire of Bruce Arians as their head coach on Tuesday night, with a full staff of assistants in tow.

While some moves aren’t yet public, Rivera taking over this role full-time will be far from the only change the Panthers’ staff undergoes in the coming days.

The Panthers could consider former defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Steve Wilks, who was fired as head coach in Arizona after just one season.

After former defensive backs coach Curtis Fuller resigned amid a workplace misconduct investigation last May, the team did not have the time to conduct a full search for his replacement. Rivera promoted assistants Richard Rodgers and Jeff Imamura to take over Fuller’s role and to coach the secondary.

Imamura was fired after the Panthers lost to Tampa Bay in Week 13, as was first-year defensive line coach Brady Hoke.

Wilks could return to coach defensive backs, though perhaps with more autonomy over the defense as a whole because of his previous experience. He might also want to explore other opportunities.

The Panthers are continuing the interview process for multiple positions on staff this week.

Jourdan has covered the Carolina Panthers as a beat writer since 2016, and froze during Pennsylvania winters as an award-winning Penn State football beat writer before that. A 2014 graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, she’s on a never-ending quest for trick plays and the stories that give football fans goosebumps.
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