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We haven’t even gotten to Black Monday yet, and veteran head coaches of struggling NFL teams are already being relieved of their duties. Jay Gruden was let go in Washington back in October, and now Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers has joined him.
However, while the only person likely to be clamoring for Gruden’s services might be his brother in Oakland, Rivera is another story.
Yes, the second half of the past two seasons in Charlotte have been disastrous, but we’re still talking about a two-time NFL Coach of the Year who won 76 of 140 regular-season games in Carolina with three division titles and a trip to the Super Bowl on his professional resume.
There is no shortage of teams who can only dream about their head coach having that sort of success, and there will be no shortage of teams who, at the very least, kick the tires on the 57-year-old in the offseason.
As good a coach as Rivera may be (and to be clear, he is a good coach), it’s not a shock that he was let go. Last season, the Panthers started 6-2 before falling apart in the second half to finish 7-9. Things went similarly sideways in 2019: After a 4-2 start, the Panthers have dropped five out of six, including four in a row.
That latest skid was apparently enough for new Panthers owner David Tepper, who released a statement following Rivera’s firing and the naming of Perry Fewell as interim head coach.
“I believe this is the best decision for the long-term success of our team,” Tepper said, per ESPN’s David Newton. “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.”
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Frankly, from the moment Tepper bought the team, Rivera was living on borrowed time. It won’t be even a little surprising if general manager Marty Hurney is also let go at some point, allowing Tepper to staff his team with “his” guys.
It can even be argued that the timing wasn’t surprising, either. The Panthers have no real shot of making the postseason. Punting on the season and firing the coach allows Tepper to kick-start his search for a new head man ahead of the other NFL teams who will make a change this offseason.
Of course, the flip side of that coin is that teams contemplating a switch now know there’s a veteran coach with a 15-win season and Super Bowl trip to his credit who took his team to the playoffs in four of eight full seasons at the helm. A defensive-minded coach whose Panthers teams finished in the top 10 in yards allowed five times is available.
If those qualifications don’t appeal to an NFL brain trust, then the coach might not be the only person who needs to be switched out.
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After the Falcons suffered back-to-back losing seasons and a steady downward slide since losing Super Bowl LI in heartbreaking fashion, just about everyone expects Dan Quinn to be let go after the season. Actually, had you conducted a survey, it’s a good bet most pundits would have predicted that the head coach of the 3-9 Falcons would be shown the door before Rivera.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank is keenly aware of what Rivera is capable of as a head coach. Since he took over in Charlotte, Carolina has more NFC South titles than Atlanta does. And with star quarterback Matt Ryan not getting any younger, the idea of hiring a more established coach could easily appeal to the Home Depot magnate.
It’s far from a sure bet that the Browns will move on from Freddie Kitchens after one disappointing season. And as Doug Lesmerises reported for Cleveland.com, the track record of the six teams that have fired a head coach after just one season since 2010 would seem to indicate that knee-jerk firings aren’t the wisest courses of action.
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Still, after they entered the season with the highest of expectations, there’s no denying that the Browns haven’t come close to playing up to their talent level.
After a season in which a first-time coach has led the sloppiest and most undisciplined team in the NFL, the notion of a veteran who can run a tight ship and get along with his players at the same time might get owner Jimmy Haslam’s knee jerking all the more.
Per Jon Machota of The Athletic, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones continues to talk up head coach Jason Garrett.
“Nobody has the exclusive skills to get the job done so that collectively you can win a Super Bowl,” Jones said. “But there are qualified people. Jason Garrett is one of them. In my opinion, Jason Garrett will be coaching in the NFL next year.”
Notice he didn’t say coaching in Dallas.
Barring a miracle run by a mediocre Cowboys team (in terms of record), Garrett’s run in Dallas is probably going to end after this season. Not only is there not an owner in the NFL who loves a splash signing more than Jones, but there’s also going to be one candidate on the market who has shown he can do what Jones wants more than anything else in the world: get to the Super Bowl.
Los Angeles Chargers
A few weeks ago, Sportsline offered odds on the next head coach to be let go after Jay Gruden. Rivera wasn’t even on the list (oops). Anthony Lynn of the Chargers was second.
Given that the Chargers are 2-3 since then, it’s unlikely that Lynn’s seat has cooled much.
It’s not certain that the Bolts will can Lynn one season after 12 wins and a playoff victory. And if the team decides to move on from Philip Rivers in the offseason and start a rebuild, a younger head coach might be more appealing.
But with the Chargers set to move into a new stadium in 2020, pairing a veteran quarterback with a veteran head coach would make more than a little sense if owner Dean Spanos decides on one more run with Rivers.
New York Giants
With Giants co-owner Steve Tisch ducking a recent question about the future of head coach Pat Shurmur in the Big Apple, speculation has only grown that Shurmur’s second year in charge of the G-Men will be his last. That’s a surprise to exactly no one. Being the worst team in the league’s worst division (and sporting a worse record than the cross-town Jets) can’t sit well with such a storied franchise.
The bigger question might be whether Rivera would want any part of this job.
The Giants have some young talent on offense and hope to have their franchise quarterback of the future in Daniel Jones. But the defense is a hot mess from front to back, and the expectations and media scrutiny in New York far outweigh the talent on the roster.
Mike McCarn/Associated Press
Mind you, that’s not the full extent of the teams that could be interested in Rivera during the offseason.
A Jacksonville Jaguars squad loaded with defensive talent might want to see what Rivera could do. In the admittedly unlikely event that the Chicago Bears decide Matt Nagy isn’t the man for the job in the Windy City, Rivera’s history as a player in Chicago would be a public relations dream.
There’s also the Redskins, although working for Daniel Snyder wouldn’t be an easy sell for a coach with Rivera’s track record. The interest has to be mutual.
The more teams that want a piece of Rivera, the more options he’ll have—assuming he even wants to coach in 2020 rather than spend a year or two doing TV. There will be offers there, as well. Riverboat Ron isn’t short on personality.
Getting fired is never fun. And Rivera no doubt wishes the past couple of years had gone differently in Carolina. But there’s a silver lining to this dark day in his professional history. If he wants to coach next season, he won’t hurt for suitors.
Washington may well have already made a call.