(Full Disclosure, I'm a Panthers fan)
So after an embarrassing loss to the 'Skins, the Panthers fired Rivera at 5-7, many pointing to Tepper's quote of not accepting "long-term mediocrity". The Panthers were on pace to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row, but only their third time in seven years. That doesn't seem like long-term mediocrity to me.
WHY RIVERA WAS FIRED:
The Panthers were competitive this year despite key injuries to their franchise QB, 2nd best defensive player KK Short, and most recently Poe and Van Roten (important line players). Four games stood out to me as to major reasons he was fired and they all revolve around one thing: Short-yardage and goal line offense.
Week 2 vs. Tampa Bay:
1:30 left. 4th & goal on the 1. The Panthers go outside with CMC, are heavily criticized for not sneaking up the middle.
They also failed to convert a 4th & 1 early on in the game as well.
Week 10 vs Green Bay:
Four Plays inside the 5 yard line down 8 points at the end of the game. Failed to score a touchdown.
Week 12 vs. New Orleans:
Four plays inside the 5 yard line, tie game. Fail to score a touchdown, settle for a FG, miss the FG.
Week 13 vs. Washington:
Four plays inside the 5 yard line, down 8 at the end of the game. Fail to score a touchdown. Kyle Allen doesn't throw to his wide open read on 4th down...
If they can convert on these plays they are at least +2 games, maybe 3 if you bet on them beating the skins in OT. Which makes a very different case for Rivera at potentially 7-5 with a backup QB.
Now there is blame to be had here for Rivera primarily the state of his defense which hasn't been able to stop the run, but has made great improvements to their pass defense, leading the league in sacks. But with injuries to interior lineman and the switch to 3-4, they have been left with guys who are don't specialize in run stoppin and the OLB/DEs who are not big guys that can clog up holes and help with run support. That leaves Kuechly and Shaq Thompson (who's smaller and a converted Safety) to pick up the slack.
Rivera has had good defenses in the past, so why is it different now? Why is he struggling to build a great defense the past few years. And a big reason is personnel. David Gettleman spent most of his years drafting DTs (some did work out!) and seriously neglected other areas of the field, primarily the secondary. He rescinded Josh Norman's tag, and the secondary is only just now starting to get back up to speed. Gman drafted tons of CBs to try and quell the issues but the damage had already been done, and his unwillingness to EVER invest in a safety has not changed with Hurney at the helm. Eric Reid can't cover and the best safety during the Rivera regime that I can remember was probably Kurt Coleman...
There have been a lot of issues on the offensive side of the ball (OT has been poor since Jordan Gross retired in 2013, save for one year) that are finally getting resolved now. Cam really made a lot of those issues disappear, his play in 2015 is even more amazing when you look at the skill players he had to work with.
The bottom line here is the personnel has not been all that it's cracked up to be, there have been major holes for the past three years that have been patched up with young rookies and old vets/big name vets (Peppers, McCoy, Mike Adams, Eric Reid) that look good on paper, but that aren't that helpful. His teams haven't been horrible, but he's not had the talent he had during his major success. And even now his teams are still competitive against everyone but the 49ers.
MY OPINION ON WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE:
Give Ron through 2020, keep Newton on contract and draft a QB (hopefully Tua if you can get ahead of the Chargers in the draft). Give this regime one more go if Newton can play, see how it goes. This was a playoff team with Cam healthy, with some dark horse Super Bowl picks, they were still competitive despite injuries. I don't see what is really gained moving now, I don't hate the decision but I don't see what the rush is when there is still a chance they can field a scary unit rather than basically going into a retool/rebuild.
I've got a bad feeling about this man and here's why:
1. "He's a former Steelers minority owner" and he's been "preaching patience"
Bullshit. Jimmy Haslam is a former Steelers minority owner, means nothing. He's not preaching patience, it's been less than two years and Rivera is already gone. This dude wanted Rivera out the door ever since they got smacked by Pittsburgh last year.
2. He wants an "old school coach who also really believes in analytics".
Well dude you just fired one. Rivera was ultra old school conservative his first two years but then began trusting analytics and Cam and was donned the nickname "Riverboat Ron". He's not Frank Reich, but he's definitely a Dan Quinn or Pat Shurmur. He went for 2 down 14 against Green Bay (which I think is a dumb trend) because of "analytics". So this means nothing.
3. Firing a coach mid season does not really give you a "leg up" on hiring, is not "doing Rivera a favor" or making your organization look good.
The Packers and Browns made early season firings last year. I don't think anybody is ecstatic with the hirings they made. Most people you are looking to hire are going to be coaching into the postseason so i'm not sure why people think it's any significant advantage. You are not doing a coach a favor by firing him early, you do that if there are significant issues within the organization. It is embarrassing for Rivera whose coached well and now will be watching HIS team finish out the next four weeks.
I don't think mid season firings generally will deter future head coaches from coming to Carolina. But it isn't a good look that the owner can't wait even two years to fire a fairly successful coach. Carolina isn't a huge name or market so it's not a gonna pull a huge name.
I hope I'm wrong but this makes me pessimistic about the future of Carolina with Tepper. I've seen delusional Panthers fans saying "thank god we don't have to put up with alternating winning seasons anymore!". If this goes poorly we wont very many winning seasons at all.