Rivera not sure if strong finish saves his job

While Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes a strong finish is
crucial for his team’s confidence heading into next season, he’s
not sure if winning three of the last four games will be enough to
save his job.

”I think we have to keep going,” Rivera said.

By that he means it’s important the Panthers beat Oakland and
New Orleans to finish the season 7-9, which would better last
year’s record by one game.

Carolina (5-9) enjoyed its first blowout win Sunday, crushing
San Diego 31-7. That came one week after a decisive 30-20 upset win
over Atlanta.

After Panthers owner Jerry Richardson fired general manager
Marty Hurney following a 1-5 start, he told Rivera the team needed
to be ”trending upward” the rest of the way for him to keep his
job.

The Panthers are 4-4 since.

However, the latest stretch – one in which second-year Cam
Newton has combined for 13 touchdowns in the last five games
without a turnover – provides a bit of promise for the future and
could convince Richardson to give Rivera another shot.

”This isn’t about a couple of good wins or emotional wins,”
Rivera said of his own future. ”It’s really about the whole body
of work.”

Rivera said Monday that he’s under the impression that
Richardson, not the team’s future GM, will make the decision on the
coaching staff’s future.

That could also factor into Rivera’s corner since often times
new GMs like to bring in their own coaching staff.

Rivera, who is 11-20 in two seasons in Carolina, said he’s made
some mistakes as a first-time head coach.

However, the former Bears and Chargers defensive coordinator
believes he’s improved in a number of areas, including delegating
authority and managing coaches and players.

”I will put myself up against anybody in terms of Xs and Os,”
Rivera said. ”I feel very confident of that. But I’ve had to learn
a lot about managing. When you’re managing 26 people and five
coaches (as a defensive coordinator) and then suddenly you’re
managing 61 people and 17 coaches it’s a little different… So
there’s been a lot to learn and grow on.”

Rivera points out that because of the NFL lockout last year he’s
only had 16 months to get to know his players.

He didn’t have the luxury of OTAs or minicamps last season.

Rivera said one mistake he might have made when putting together
his coaching staff in 2011 was not hiring anyone with any
significant NFL head coaching experience.

”In retrospect to have an older gentlemen that could have
looked over my shoulder might have helped,” Rivera said.

Still, the players remain staunch supporters of Rivera and some
believe it would be a mistake to break up the cohesiveness that is
beginning to form.

”We really have something outstanding going on here in this
locker room,” receiver Steve Smith. ”If we can continue to do the
things we’re doing now, we’re going to have some great things to
look forward to in the future.”

Newton refused to talk about the future, saying he’s not done
with this season.

”We aren’t looking to the end of the season to prove
ourselves,” Newton said. ”We’re trying to come out and practice
to execute each and every day so come game time we can put a nice
product out there on the field.”

Rivera said he believes finishing strong is important when it
comes to carrying momentum into the offseason and then next year –
even though that wasn’t the case last season.

Carolina won four of its last four games in 2011 and seemed to
ready to carry that momentum into this season.

Instead, their potent offense sputtered out of the game and the
Panthers opened the season 1-6, crushing any hopes of a trip to the
playoffs.

”It’s a different set of circumstances this time,” Rivera
said. ”I believe this team is maturing a little more than last
year. Hopefully going forward we will be able to better manage our
expectations as a team. We have to realize that we have not
arrived.”

Before the season three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil even
took out a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper promising
fans a Super Bowl win.

Rivera said he likes Kalil’s confidence, but said next time he’d
like to see that kept in house and not made public.

He said it might have added undue pressure.

As for the pressure surrounding his own future, Rivera said
”there are a lot of things I feel good about here. But again,
we’ll see how it goes in two weeks.”

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