Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Panthers keep finding scapegoats, bigger problems remain

Ron Rivera

Ron Rivera describes how the Carolina Panthers improved under his leadership and how he hopes to return as head coach in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)


Going into his third year with the Panthers, Ron Rivera has a 13-19 record.

His record of offering up those who might not necessarily be the problem is far more impressive.

In addition to the previously reported firing of running backs coach John Settle, the Panthers announced today that they also fired wide receivers coach Fred Graves and linebackers coach Warren Belin.

This is after Rivera fired his defensive backs coach (Ron Meeks) after his first season, his special teams coach (Brian Murphy) midseason this year, and stood by while the guy who hired him (former general manager Marty Hurney) was fired.

That’s five coaches, all of whom he picked. Or, one fewer than his home wins the last two seasons.

Meanwhile, it appears that Teflon Ron and both his coordinators, Rob Chudzinski and Sean McDermott will return. Of the three of them, McDermott has the best recent resume.

While Rivera’s twin 2-8 starts and 2-12 record in games decided by a touchdown make it hard to make a strong argument for him, owner Jerry Richardson gave him a third year after meeting with him last weekend. Part of the reason you hear behind the scenes is that Richardson’s personal relationship with Rivera was strong enough to make the owner feel it was fair to give him a chance after winning five of his last six. And most of the defenses of Rivera begin with “He’s a great guy, . . . “

But taking shots at a decent man or firing random assistants isn’t going to fix the basic problem with the Panthers, which remains the same as it was this morning, or Saturday before Rivera got a reprieve.

The Panthers have, and have had, an allocation of resources problem. That goes back to Richardson spending none of the money prior to the lockout, and all of it immediately afterward. That includes Hurney signing all the running backs, but then hiring a coaching staff that refused to use the strongest part of the roster to its fullest extent. That goes back to a pre-lockout purge that left the Panthers with a pro personnel staff of one man, since Hurney was willing to take on more jobs than he should have been asked to do.

Now, they’re trying to improve from 7-9 with a roster that’s going to have to be subtracted from ($16 million over the 2013 salary cap) before it’s added to.

And now, in the absence of leadership from a general manager who won’t get to decide who he gets to work with, the Panthers get a ritual sacrifice of a group of men who either don’t matter all that much or didn’t offend. Graves was Steve Smith’s position coach in college, and Smith’s voice has carried weight in the past. Belin and Settle were young, but coached groups which played acceptably when deployed properly. And while former Panthers running backs coach Jim Skipper is available (and happened to coach DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart when they each topped 1,100 yards the same season), Rivera doesn’t seem to be interested in bringing him back.

To be honest, it’s hard to see what Rivera’s plan is, other than stay employed.

But the deeper problem in Charlotte is that there doesn’t seem to be much of a plan at all.