I was struggling for questions to ask Clement Walker of Cat Scratch Reader earlier this week. The Falcons just played the Panthers, what, like 8 days ago? What other jokes or questions could we even have? Both teams have politely but firmly rejected any chance at redemption in 2019.
You may have heard that Panthers coach Ron Rivera was fired. With Carolina moving on, it reminded me that the Falcons are also about to move on from a player-friendly, defensive head coach after a couple of mistakes and poor seasons. If their general manager wasn’t terrible, we’d be in the same boat.
1. Ron Rivera was surprisingly fired on Tuesday, ending his nine-year run with the Carolina Panthers, most likely highlighted by the Super Bowl run and Cam Newton’s MVP campaign. Things seemed to either be going great or falling apart. What went wrong?
His inability to adapt to the times is going to be the ultimate story of Ron Rivera’s tenure in the Carolinas. Whether it was in game adjustments, play calling philosophies, or simply engaging with the idea of math as a useful subject, Rivera didn’t have the strongest reputation for adaptation. He was a good coach, but the league grew beyond his ability to elevate a roster above its component parts. That became increasingly obvious when those components were the likes of Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, and Luke Kuechly.
Rivera left the Panthers in a better place than he found them, which was coming off of a 2-14 season with Jimmy Clausen as the only hope we had. He’ll land on his feet somewhere in a similar situation and probably have a similar effect. Look for him to end up with a perennial bottom feeder like Cleveland or Atlanta.
2. With Rivera gone, we also expect our defensive-minded head coach to get fired at the end of the season. From a Falcons’ fans perspective, it looks like both coaches got too conservative and hired the wrong coaches. Do you see any similarities between both teams?
The NFL spent the past two decades evolving into a passing league, and both the Panthers and the Falcons hired their coaches because they thought that defenses still won championships. The Panthers recent Super Bowl appearance was certainly decided by a defensive display by the 2015 Broncos, both they and the 2016 Falcons a year later earned their berths in that game on the strength of near historic offenses.
That covers the head coaching level. The assistant coaches are another story. The Falcons regressed after losing Shanahan because they got conservative, but the Panthers tried the opposite. Norv Turner may not be exactly new, but his offensive concepts were a breath of fresh air after loyalty kept Mike Shula employed about five years past his expiration date. From this perspective, Rivera was undone by his management of Cam Newton’s health over the last two seasons. We’ll never know what could have been if Newton had been allowed to heal appropriately following either of his injuries in 2018 and 2019.
3. What’s the biggest loss for the Panthers now that Rivera is gone? There will obviously some transition, but what was Rivera’s strongest trait the team will miss both now and into 2020?
Rivera was the consummate players coach. His office was a cramped closet around the corner from the locker room because he wanted to be near the players and he wanted the players to know he was willing to be close with them. No matter who they hire next, it is going to be next to impossible to replace his willingness and success at creating impactful relationships up and down the roster.
4. The Falcons surprisingly upset the Panthers on the last matchup, seemingly starting a team slide that ended in Rivera’s unceremonious firing. Kyle Allen’s still there, but do you think Carolina has a chance against the struggling Falcons?
No. Injuries, emotion, karma: take your pick of reasons, but the Panthers are probably done for the year. They’ll beat the Saints back ups in Week 17 because that is what Kyle Allen does, but that’s about it.
5. What will you do when David Tepper announces Dan Quinn as the new Panthers head coach?
I will cry tears of joy. I am not overly fond of Quinn, mind you, but I am really enjoying covering a coaching change. Hiring Quinn would ensure the opportunity to do it again soon.
Honestly, the Panthers probably won’t look at Quinn. He will probably fit the same mold as Rivera as a coach who will be better in their second opportunity as a head coach. That opportunity will not be in Charlotte. The Panthers are looking to create a marriage of old school and new school thinking, and they already have an old school guy in general manager Marty Hurney. Their next coach will be a young guy from an offensive background with some bright ideas.