In retrospect, Ron Rivera’s tenure stood on shaky ground as soon as hedge fund billionaire David Tepper became the new owner of the Panthers last year. For all his accomplishments, he proved inconsistent at best in nine years with the franchise. The strides he made as two-time National Football League Coach of the Year and Super Bowl 50 finalist ultimately served as fillers for a sideline run marked by mediocrity that the record $2.275-billion purchase did not support and could not continue to countenance.
For Rivera, the 2019 season became especially trying. The loss of quarterback Cam Newton due to a foot injury in Week 2 didn’t help, but it wasn’t as if they were making beautiful music immediately beforehand; in fact, the former Most Valuable Player had lost eight straight outings before being decommissioned. And as the roller-coaster ride continued with Kyle Allen, who won four straight before going on a swoon that produced setbacks in five of the next six games, Tepper felt compelled to act. Especially grating were an embarrassing showing against the doormat Falcons two weeks ago and a poor performance versus the lowly Redskins last Sunday.
With the Panthers out of playoff contention, Tepper felt that waiting until the end of the season to make a coaching change would serve to handicap them moving forward. It was coming, anyway, and he didn’t want to conduct a casting call while Rivera was still at the helm; doing so would have formalized the latter’s lameduck status, not to mention conveyed no small measure of disrespect. “Why specifically now is I was informed of other teams doing different types of searches out there, and I’m not going to start a search and not tell Ron Rivera I’m starting a search. Too good of a man,” he said.
Clearly, the Panthers aim to cast a wide net in their quest for an able successor. Moreover, Tepper is bent on having the new coach decide Newton’s future, if any, with them. Much has been said about the need to evaluate him once he’s healthy and not before, but the proper perspective will necessitate queries on his fit under a new regime. Regardless of his post-recovery condition, he deems himself a dual threat and not simply a pocket passer. Will this align with the preferences of the new tactician? Or will Allen suit the restructured offense better?
In any case, the Panthers need to adjust to quite a few moves if they are to regain their place with the league elite. A long road back to respectability lies ahead, but Tepper has, at the very least, already pointed them in the right direction.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.