Rivera: ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen’

With four games remaining in the Carolina Panthers’ season, perhaps the biggest question facing the organization is whether coach Ron Rivera will return for a third season in 2013.

On Wednesday in a conference call with Atlanta media, Rivera was candid about the chances that he will not be back and admitted he does not know what will happen. After a 6-10 season last year, the Panthers were a trendy pick as a dark horse for a playoff spot in the NFC.

However, they have regressed and at 3-9 will have a difficult time equaling last season’s performance. Additionally, quarterback Cam Newton, last year’s offensive rookie of the year and the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, has not shown the strides many were expecting. Newton is on pace for fewer yards and touchdown passes this season (but also fewer interceptions) and his quarterback rating has improved only marginally, 85.8 to 84.5.

On Wednesday, Rivera was asked about the decision to play young players with the Panthers’ chances to make the playoffs distant at best. First, he pointed out how many young players the Panthers are playing: rookies at middle linebacker, cornerback, left guard, kick returner, at times at safety and a pass-rusher in their nickel sub package along with a second-year nickel corner.

The Panthers already have fired general manager Marty Hurney in midseason.

“We’re playing so many young guys that when people ask me about it, I say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to continue to play the young guys so I can see them play a little more so that we can continue to evaluate them,’” Rivera said. “This is an evaluation process for everybody because of our circumstances. It’s not about me. The owner (Jerry Richardson) at the end of the year will make a decision about me and when he sits down and makes his decision about me, and, again, going forward, I will have knowledge of who we have.

“If he makes the decision the other way, the new people will have knowledge on the people that are here, so they can make informed decisions, so we can make informed decisions. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know the next four weeks we have an opportunity to go out and play some good football. We have an opportunity to show what we can do and we can get good tape and film on who these people are and good film and tape on what they’re capable of doing and what they’re not capable of doing and evaluate our scheme and decide some things.

“So, we’re going to do the things we need to do as we go forward. I mean, everything I’m doing, my intention is to be back here next year and, again, come into the season, we’ll know.”