Panthers coach Ron Rivera has become one of the most popular guys at the party after his first Super Bowl berth as a head coach.
Now he wants to crash the party again, next time with a different result.
When Rivera and his wife joined NASCAR team owner Felix Sabates for dinner in Miami this past weekend, Rivera said many of the club-hopping, South Beach hipsters recognized him.
And as he’s walked the sprawling grounds of the Boca Raton Resort this week at the NFL’s annual meetings, Rivera has been stopped more often than at previous meetings.
“It’s been kind of neat. I know how Pete Carroll feels now and guys like that,” Rivera said Monday. “It’s nice to have been to the Super Bowl. You absolutely want to be the winner. But it’s been kind of neat.
“Guys have asked me my opinion on things and stuff like that. It’s nice, but at the same time I want to win it, I want to get back.”
Besides sharing his opinion on various topics, Rivera has been picking the brains of his fellow coaches as well.
“I’ve been trying to ask the right kind of questions to some of these veteran coaches about some of the things that they’ve done and their experiences with it,” he said. “We’ll see. Hopefully I learn something.”
It’s been a relatively quiet offseason for the Panthers.
Quarterback Cam Newton is in Los Angeles filming a children’s show for Nickelodeon. Linebacker Luke Kuechly’s recovering from shoulder surgery and the Panthers’ biggest offseason transaction was re-signing defensive end Charles Johnson just a few days after he’d been released.
It was a cost-cutting move that saved the Panthers about $8 million against the salary cap. But Rivera said Johnson’s willingness to return for less money sent a loud message he hopes resonates with the rest of the roster.
“The biggest thing was when Charles came in and met with us, the passion with which he talked about wanting to be with us was awesome,” Rivera said while meeting with a small group of Charlotte reporters. “I wish the other players could all hear the way he talked about it. To me it was really a profound statement that he made.”
Johnson, 29, one of the Panthers’ longest-tenured players, missed seven games last season with a hamstring injury. He was held without a sack for a six-game stretch after returning from the short-term injured reserve.
But he played well in the playoffs, recording a sack in all three postseason games.
Johnson and third-year pro Kony Ealy are expected to be the Panthers’ starting defensive ends. Ealy had an MVP-worthy performance in the Super Bowl with three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble that he also recovered.
But Rivera believes the Panthers could use reinforcements at a position that lost depth when Jared Allen retired and the suspended Frank Alexander was allowed to become a free agent.
“As far as going forward into the future, yeah. But I like where we are right now,” Rivera said. “I’m excited about the young guys. I want to see (Ryan Delaire) and see what he has to offer. And Rakim Cox and Arthur Miley.”
In addition to the three young ends Rivera mentioned, the Panthers also have speed rusher Mario Addison and former starter Wes Horton under contract.
“It’s a good group,” Rivera said. “Charles adds stability to that position that we were looking for.”
But Rivera indicated general manager Dave Gettleman is interested in bringing in another defensive tackle either through free agency or a deep draft class.
The Panthers signed veteran nose tackle Paul Soliai last week to be part of a rotation with starters Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei. But they’re still a player short at the position after cutting Dwan Edwards and letting Kyle Love test the free agent market.
The defensive tackle spot has long been a favorite of Gettleman, who drafted Lotulelei and Short in the first two rounds in 2013 during Gettleman’s first year with the Panthers.
Both players are in line for big paydays soon, but that fact might not stop Gettleman from drafting another defensive tackle.
“In talking to Dave, we’ve got to look at the defensive tackle spot as well,” Rivera said. “I know Dave has some ideas already.”