Panthers firing Ron Rivera could make opening for 49ers' Robert Saleh

Panthers firing Ron Rivera could make opening for 49ers' Robert Saleh

The Carolina Panthers fired coach Ron Rivera on Tuesday in a move that could have implications for the 49ers this offseason. 

San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has been rumored to be a head-coaching candidate ahead of the 2020 season, with Niners cornerback Richard Sherman and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll endorsing Saleh. Saleh has overseen the 49ers' year-over-year turnaround on defense, using offseason acquisitions Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and injured linebacker Kwon Alexander to full effect.

The Panthers, meanwhile, have allowed the 11th-most total yards -- and the fourth-most on the ground -- this season. Thirty-eight percent of opponents' drives also have ended in a touchdown, the 11th-highest mark in the league. 

Still, the Panthers might focus on the other side of the ball. Rivera himself was a former defensive coordinator, and Panthers owner David Tepper indicated Tuesday that his preference would be to hire a head coach with an offensive background.  

"This is a modern NFL,'' Tepper said in a press conference Tuesday (via ESPN). "There is a preference for offensive coordinators. That does not mean if you find somebody fantastic on the defensive side I won't consider it. The NFL has made rules to lean to the offense. That's why you have more people going that way.''

If Saleh were "fantastic" enough in Tepper's eyes, the 49ers would then have an opening on their staff. Rivera's background could make him a fit. The 57-year-old attended Seaside High School in Monterrey County and then played four years at Cal.

[RELATED: 49ers' Kittle says teammate Warner is favorite teammate ever]

The Panthers struggled with Rivera calling plays this season, and how well his scheme would translate to the 49ers' defensive personnel remains to be seen. Still, his extensive experience and personal ties to the Bay Area seemingly would make him a candidate. 

Saleh, however, first would have to land the head-coaching job that many see as an inevitability. 

Kurt Warner sees two quarterbacks who do what it takes for their teams to win

Kurt Warner sees two quarterbacks who do what it takes for their teams to win

MIAMI -- Patrick Mahomes led the Kansas City Chiefs to the Super Bowl with his strong and accurate throwing arm.

Jimmy Garoppolo handed the ball off repeatedly during the 49ers’ postseason run.

But both quarterbacks in Super Bowl LIV have succeeded in accomplishing the same thing for their team, Hall of Famer Kurt Warner said in an interview Tuesday with NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Whether you throw eight passes in a championship game or you bring your team back from 24 points down, you have to do whatever you have to do at the quarterback position to win,” Warner said.

“I believe both of these guys have done that this year. There’ve been huge moments for Jimmy Garoppolo. The win down in New Orleans is one that jumps out to me. Hey, we got to go score 40 points? I can score 40 points. We got to hand the ball off every time and I throw eight passes? I can do that and I’m fine with that, as long as we win football games.”

Mahomes and Garoppolo did it in different ways, but they have proven to be the right quarterbacks for the Chiefs and the 49ers.

There are a lot of differences, but there is a similarity, too, Warner pointed out. Both players were backups for at least one season behind respected veteran quarterbacks. Alex Smith set a great example for Mahomes, while Garoppolo spent 3 ½ seasons behind Tom Brady, one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.

“I think there’s a maturity to understand what goes into being an NFL quarterback and handling everything that comes with that,” Warner said. “Both of those guys got to learn from really good NFL quarterbacks, Alex Smith and Tom Brady.

“So you learn something from them on how you lead a franchise. I think both of them have done a tremendous job early in their careers at doing just that. And, now, early in their starting careers, they’re in the Super Bowl.”

Warner said he believes the key matchup of Sunday’s game will be the 49ers’ pass rush against Mahomes. The 49ers must find a way to get Mahome out of rhythm and prevent him from connecting on big plays down the field.

The 49ers’ offense has to control the clock and keep Mahomes on the sideline. Then, the pass rush has to make it difficult for Mahomes to have time to get the ball down the field to the Chiefs’ speedy wide receivers.

[RELATEDKyle Shanahan explains why 49ers passed on Patrick Mahomes in 2017 NFL draft]

“A lot of that is going to fall on those pass-rushers up front,” Warner said. ‘Can they get quick pressure on Patrick Mahomes. What do we know about the Kansas City Chiefs? They want to throw the ball down the field, and they want to make big plays. You have to force them to go away from what they do really well.”

Meanwhile, Garoppolo has to enter this game expecting to put the team on his back after playing an auxiliary role in the 49ers’ 17-point victories over Minnesota and Green Bay in the playoffs.

“If you’re a quarterback and you’ve dreamed of playing in this big moment, you want to be a huge part of why you win, and that’s what you prepare for this week,” Warner said.

Jimmie Ward believes 49ers can combat Chiefs' speed with physical play

Jimmie Ward believes 49ers can combat Chiefs' speed with physical play

MIAMI -- Free safety Jimmie Ward thought he’d heard questions from everyone about the challenge the 49ers will face in Super Bowl LIV.

Then Ward's Pop Warner coach checked in.

“My old football coach wrote on my social media, something about, ‘Are you going to be able to catch Tyreek Hill?' His speed, this and that,” Ward said on Tuesday. “That’s the crazy thing about it, I was like, 'Dang, you too?' ”

The 49ers have the challenge of facing the Kansas City Chiefs, an explosive offense that defensive coordinator Robert Saleh believes is the fastest team he has seen -- “by far,” he said.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has a talented group of wide receivers from which to choose, including Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman. The 49ers' ability to handle the speed of the Kansas City will be one of the key factors Sunday in Super Bowl LIV.

“We respect that,” Ward said. “They have speed. They have guys who can catch really well and one of the best quarterbacks. Mahomes is cool. Would you rather play a team that you know you’re going to win? I’d rather play a team that a lot of people think we’re going to lose against.”

Ward hopes to answer the question for Tony Powell, his old youth football coach from Mobile, Alabama. In order for the 49ers to slow down the Chiefs, they have to be win their one-on-one matchups while also playing together as a team to rally to the ball and deliver big hits, Ward said.

“If we do line up for a relay, they probably win,” Ward said. “But one thing about it, this is football. There’s such thing as a helmet and shoulder pads. And we hit, and we are very physical with how we hit.

“If you’re fast and you’re running heads-up, and we can run and we collide, you’re going to feel it because you’re so fast. We’re fast, too. I’m pretty sure they see how fast our defense is, too.”

[RELATEDChiefs' Hill says 49ers will face one of most explosive offenses ever]

The 49ers were tied in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills in allowing the fewest pass plays of 20 yards or more during the regular season (34). The 49ers’ allowed just 169.2 yards passing per game, the lowest total in the NFL since the 2009 season.

Ward generally plays the deep middle in the 49ers’ defense, which means it’s his job to keep the play in front of him to prevent game-changing types of plays. There will be times when the Chiefs' wideouts get into the open field, then it's imperative that Ward and his fellow defensive backs do not allow a track meet to break out.

“I feel like we do a great job of taking angles,” Ward said. “When we have that angle, we shoot, then somebody else is coming. As long as you make a guy stop his feet, it takes time to restart.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.