One-quarter of the NFL teams got rid of their head coaches this offseason, but Carolina and Ron Rivera were not two of the parties that split ways. That certainly would’ve been shocking if you were told that entering Week 9, when the Panthers were 1-6, but they won six of their last nine games, including four straight to end the season. Rivera says he’s learned plenty in his first two years as a head coach and believes his team is on the right track.
Ron Rivera joined WFNZ in Charlotte with The Drive to discuss hiring Mike Shula as Carolina’s offensive coordinator, whether his team is on track to make the playoffs next year, if he needs to do that to keep his job, what makes him a better coach now than when he was hired two years ago and why he wants to be judged on the last half of the season.
Why is Mike Shula the right guy to be your offensive coordinator?:
“Because Mike did a great job in his interview. We sat down and had an opportunity to talk about our offense, talk about the direction our offense needs to be headed. Mike has a very vast knowledge of what we do, had a great insight into the things that needed to be corrected and gave me great reasons as to why. He talked about the things he wanted to keep in place and keep using and gave me great reasons as to why. … And then, the relationship he has with Cam Newton, I think, was very important.”
When you see what Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick and RG3 did this year, having Cam Newton, do you feel like this Carolina team is a playoff-caliber squad next year?:
“Yeah, I feel we have a great opportunity. I think our quarterback had a tremendous amount of success last year in his rookie year as well. I just don’t think we were the type of team that could sustain it and get us there. The other thing is … you look at each of the teams you talked about, and their quarterbacks, you notice how long that coaching staff has been there or you look at how long those players that are playing for them have been there. The thing about Indianapolis is they were a year removed from having been to the playoffs and they didn’t have a quarterback the following year, so they struggled. Now they have a quarterback that fits them and the team was pretty much in place. … I’d like to think now that we’re going to our third year with our quarterback and with the players we have right now. We have the opportunity to ascend and get to the next level.”
With the amount of coaching turnover this offseason, do you feel you have to make the playoffs next year?:
“The bottom line is we’ve got to win. If it’s 9-7 and it’s a winning record and we played good, quality football, who knows? Again, I don’t make that decision, but I do know this, our owner’s been very supportive, very forthright in terms of what we need to do. I believe he felt we accomplished that, so we’re going forward. As we go into next season, I don’t know what those particular parameters are going to be, but I do know we have to win and we have to play good, quality football.”
What have you learned in the two years as head coach here that makes you better suited going forward?:
“I think the biggest thing is learning how to manage. I came into this really only having to control half the team, as far as offense and defense is concerned. The biggest thing I had to learn and grow is managing the entire football team. I think that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve improved on. … I don’t think there’s an awful lot of head coaches that come in in their first two seasons that have never been head coaches … that have had success right away. … For whatever reason, everybody demands demands demands automatic return on what they’ve done. It goes back to the saying, ‘Rome wasn’t built in day.’ You’ve got to build it the right way, have got to put a great foundation down. I believe that’s what we’ve done.”
Folks criticize you for being to passive. What’s your response to that?:
“I would agree the first eight games of the season, but watch the last eight. Judge me on those. … But again, it goes back to having somebody to bounce things off of and one of the things [we] talked about was me taking charge of a lot of things and becoming a lot more emotional on the field. … I’ve learned a lot, and I think that’s the thing people have got to understand. It is about learning and growing and doing things a specific way, and maybe that’s what those first two years are all about.”