Riverboat Ron is a nickname that holds more meaning than just the alliteration. Ron Rivera earned it after the "calculated risks" he has taken throughout his coaching career. Some of those risks have taken him to football's mountain top: the Super Bowl. Others have left him where he stands today: without a job.
The Carolina Panthers announced Tuesday they were moving on from the long-time head coach. In almost nine seasons with the Panthers, Rivera put up a 76-63 record, three division titles and four playoff appearances, including a trip to the Super Bowl. But it did not end with Carolina-colored confetti raining down over the players.
Now, secondary coach Perry Fewell will take Rivera’s place. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner was also named the "special assistant to the head coach" and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner is now the team's offensive coordinator.
The timing seems odd. Just two months ago, Rivera orchestrated a four-game win streak with a 23-year-old undrafted quarterback leading his team. However, since then the Panthers have lost five of their last six games, including their most recent drop to the lowly Washington Redskins.
Rivera seemed to be beloved by the players, but there is one who this decision impacts the most: Cam Newton.
Newton is currently on the injured reserve with a foot issue, something that was bothering him since the start of the regular season. It was one of the reasons Newton did not look like himself when he was on the field. Newton is also coming off shoulder problems that affected his ability to throw accurately. After a career year in accuracy percentage last season, the former MVP signal-caller looked like a shell of himself in 2019.
He will be 31 by this time next season, and next year will be the final segment of his five-year, $103 million contract. However, instead of paying the $21 million they would owe Newton, the Panthers can get out of it for just $2 million in dead cap — an easy transition for a quarterback. A changing of the head coach, a cleaning house of the scouting department, hiring an assistant general manager and vice president of football operations are all signs of a new identity forming in Carolina. It usually comes with a change at quarterback too.
As for Rivera, the 57-year-old riverboat risk-taker likely is not done. As a seasoned head coach, expect there to be plenty of suitors for his services.
Here are a few.
Despite the two-game win streak, Bill Callahan will likely not be the long-term plan for the Washington Redskins.
Washington is set up with a rookie QB that has plenty of young weapons including a stud running back and strength in the trenches on the defensive line, but trench work is needed on offense. There is some allurement to pairing Dwayne Haskins with a young, hot-shot offensive coordinator. But owner Dan Snyder should key in on the experience of Rivera now that he is on the market.
New York Giants
Pat Shurmur has only been the head coach of the New York Giants for two seasons. There is certainly an argument that he has not been given a fair chance if they are thinking about moving on from him. But he went 5-11 last season, which was worst in the division, and is about to be the worst again with an even worse record.
The most important factor in the Rivera-Giants connection, however, is not Shurmer's lack of success. It is Dave Gettleman as the general manager. Why does that matter, you ask? Because Gettleman was Rivera's GM in Carolina from 2013-17, which included the years the Panthers made the playoffs three straight times, as well as their Super Bowl appearance.
If Gettleman wants to get the band back together, there is a chance now.
There was a moment that Dan Quinn looked like he might be saving his job with the Atlanta Falcons. But after catching lightning in a bottle for a few weeks, it appears this team is destined for the cellar of the NFC South. After firing his entire staff last offseason, Quinn will likely have nowhere else to point the blame and be gone after this season.
If that is the case, Rivera and Quinn are of a similar mold when it comes to coaching. If the Falcons want to keep their same sort of core of principles in how they go about building their team, but still want a change of leadership, this could be an easy in-and-out with Rivera. Plus, Rivera knows the roster well after facing the Falcons twice a year for nine years.
It is very clear that Tom Coughlin is the man in charge of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He does things a very old school way, and because of this, an experienced coach like Rivera would be at the top of his list, if he were going to make a change from current head coach Doug Marrone this offseason.
The Jaguars have a lot of talented pieces on their defense, but it is just not gelling the way it did during their deep playoff run a few years ago. Rivera, as a defensive guy, could salvage that side of the ball while they could go out and make a splash offensive hire as a coordinator. Maybe LSU's pass game coordinator Joe Brady would be interested in the relocation and pay raise.
After listening to how the Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talked about Jason Garrett this season, it is becoming more and more plausible that Garrett will be gone for 2020. Jones always believes his team is always close to competing and likely be interested in the experience of Rivera as to not enter a total rebuild type of situation. Jones is not patient enough for that. He will go after Rivera hard.