Two days after the Carolina Panthers suffered a home loss to the 2-9 Washington Redskins, the team announced that it was firing head coach Ron Rivera.
In a statement from the team, owner David Tepper said, “I believe this is the best decision for the long-term success of our team. I have a great deal of respect for Ron and the contributions he has made to this franchise and to this community. I wish him the best. I will immediately begin the search for the next head coach of the Carolina Panthers.”
Rivera became the winningest coach in franchise history earlier this year. He arrived in 2011 and went 76-63-1 as Panthers coach. He led the team to the Super Bowl following the 2015 season and won three NFC South titles.
Since that 15-1 Super Bowl season, however, the Panthers have had three losing seasons in the last four, going 29-31 and playing just one postseason game — a Wild Card loss to New Orleans in 2017. This year’s team is 5-7 and in the midst of a four-game losing streak.
Tepper met with the Charlotte media two weeks ago, saying that he wasn’t satisfied with mediocrity, leading to speculation that he may be considering cleaning house in the offseason. Rivera’s comments opposing the use of advanced metrics and analytics — after Tepper created an analytics department for the team in the offseason — also likely hastened his departure.
“We are going to take a comprehensive and thorough review of our football operation to make sure we are structured for long-term sustained success,” Tepper said in his statement. “Our vision is to find the right mix of old-school discipline and toughness with modern and innovative processes.”
Tepper also hinted at further front office changes in his statement, but they apparently don’t include replacing GM Marty Hurney.
“We will consider a wide range of football executives to complement our current football staff,” he said. “One change that we will implement is hiring an assistant general manager and vice president of football operations. We all must recognize that this is the first step in a process, but we are committed to building and maintaining a championship culture for our team and our fans.”
To finish out the season, the Panthers will turn to secondary coach Perry Fewell. The longtime defensive coach has previous experience as an interim head coach. In 2009, he took over in Buffalo after the Bills fired Dick Jauron, going 3-4 to finish out the season. Fewell has served as defensive coordinator for the Bills and Giants and a defensive backs coach for the Jaguars, Rams, Bears and Redskins.
Fewell was born in Cramerton, North Carolina, and led Belmont South Point to a state title before playing in college at Lenoir-Rhyne. He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Tar Heels in 1985-86.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner will serve as a special assistant to the head coach. Turner has spent 15 seasons in the NFL as a head coach, with the Redskins, Raiders and Chargers. His son, Scott Turner, previously the quarterbacks coach, will serve as offensive coordinator.
Tepper will have a long list of candidates to consider for the permanent coaching job following the season. Before buying the Panthers last year, he was a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, which will likely lead to speculation that he might try to lure Mike Tomlin to Charlotte if he and the Steelers part ways.
Other names likely to be highly regarded in this year’s coaching carousel include Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, both of whom have NFL head coaching experience, as does Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Candidates without NFL head coaching experience include Stanford’s David Shaw, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Cowboys DB coach Kris Richard and Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Regardless of who the Panthers bring in for the job, it’s clear that Tepper is ready to get the team headed in a new direction.