Jared C. Tilton
This post is essentially a rebuttal to the many posts including this one stating that Ron Rivera should stay on for a 3rd year as head coach of the Panthers.
We all like happy endings. We all want to know that the person we're on our first date with is the one that we'll choose to grow old with. We all want to feel like the new job is the last job we'll ever need to go get. And of course, we all want to know that the coach our team has hired is going to be the one who leads our team to fame and glory.
It's only natural that we want to give Rivera another chance. After all, to do otherwise is to invite the disappointment of knowing we made a bad hire. And turning to another coach opens the whole can of uncertainty about what the franchise will look like in the next few years.
But when you know something isn't going to work, there's no sense prolonging the inevitable. And Rivera in Carolina just doesn't work.
There are a lot of statistics you can point to when you begin making a case on whether or not to retain a coach. But there's only one that really matters, and that's the won/loss record. Sure, we have a top 10 defense. Who finished in the top 10 last year? Who cares? But if you spend some time thinking about it, I bet you can name the wild card teams from five seasons ago. Wins are what matters.
And when you apply that to Rivera, here's what you see. He's had two losing seasons in a row. In games that actually had theoretical playoff implications for the Panthers, he's won 3 in two seasons. He's easily had the worst first two years of any coach in franchise history. And even though he's been here for only two seasons, there's already a pattern emerging--lose early and win the meaningless games late.
In 2011, everyone felt that the defensive side of the ball would be solid. And it made some sense, Rivera had his roots on the defensive side of the ball, and there was talent returning from IR. In 2010, the Panthers were respectable on defense, it was their offense that was horrid. So it stood to reason that a coach like Rivera would come to rely on the unit while he built the offense into something we could work with.
Instead, the offense clicked and the defense collapsed for the first half of the season. And then, after we were safely out of playoff contention, the team stabilized and we went on a late winning streak to make the record look better than it was. Fans wanted to get rid of McDermott and worried that Chud would leave to be a head coach somewhere.
Then in 2012, everyone felt that the offensive side of the ball would be solid. And we went out and averaged 17.7 points per game over the first half of the season while the defense surprised everyone. By the time we were 1-6 and pretty much out of the playoff picture, the team started winning again, and it looks like we'll finish with a record that again looks better than it is. And fans want to dump Chud and hope McDermott stays around even if we have a new coach.
Is this what Panther fans really want?
Set aside the arguments about inconsistency, or poor personnel decisions, and bad game management. There are always going to be examples to point to for any coach (although Rivera is particularly generous in that area). That's just muddying the waters. Forget about the injury excuse, the Panthers were playing awful before they started racking them up, and the fact that they're winning with backups now kind of renders the talent level argument as irrelevant.
And please drop the whole "Players want him back" idea. Players almost always want their coach back, and when they don't they keep their mouths shut about it. Right now the guys in San Diego are hoping Norv Turner gets just ONE more chance. And everyone outside of San Diego can plainly see he's never going to win anything there. Besides, what player is going to say "dump the guy who decides on my playing time" in the middle of the season? So just forget what the players are saying, it's also irrelevant.
Wins are relevant. That's what the coach is paid to produce. Every loser in history has a ton of excuses for why he wasn't able to win. And there's no doubt that the comments section of this post is about to be full of them. They're just excuses. And no one pays for excuses. They pay for wins.
John Fox was here for nine years, and never had back-to-back losing seasons. He inherited a 1-15 team, and proceeded to build a winner. Dom Capers started from scratch, and like Fox he made the playoffs in his second year. Rivera started with pro bowl talent on both sides of the ball, and a once-in-a-generation franchise quarterback (don't talk about the rookie thing, the Panthers had a top five offense with him). He's yet to hit .500, even during the season.
Talent isn't the issue. It's about the coaching.
You can make all the statements you want about implementing schemes or playing in soft divisions, but winners win. It's not new schemes, its how the coaches implement them. Mike Smith went to the playoffs his first year, and they are in the same division as the Panthers. The same statement applies to Sean Payton. Jim Harbaugh brought out the best in his team in his first season. We need to find a coach who can do the same.
And Rivera just isn't that guy. He can inspire his team to show flashes of brilliance, but in two seasons he's still just showing flashes, which is not what you want in your head coach. How do you teach someone how to will his team to win anyway? And if you have to teach your coach that, are you sure you want him around?
This is basically the foundation of the argument that some other successful coaches started poorly, so Rivera can still become successful. If you're thinking along those lines, then it makes sense to start Jimmy Clausen because John Elway and Peyton Manning also struggled as rookies. But to anyone who's watched him play, you know he isn't in the same league. And to anyone who's watched Rivera coach, you know he isn't in the same league as guys like Belichick.
Consider Rivera's performance against coaches with comparable levels of experience. In 2011, Mike Munchak and Leslie Frazier beat Rivera in their first year of coaching. Rivera did not beat any rookie head coaches. This year, rookie coach Greg Schiano beat Rivera twice and second year coach Jason Garrett beat him as well. Why didn't they have to learn how to win, while somehow Rivera does?
Against teams with winning records, Rivera is 3-14 lifetime. Of those wins, one was against the Houston Texans in 2011, when they were starting rookie T.J. Yates at Quarterback (who went 2-3 as their starter). And one was against the 3-2 Washington Redskins in 2011, a team that finished 5-11. The other, of course, was at home in 2012 against the Atlanta Falcons, a nice win that was tempered somewhat by the prior week's loss to a 2-13 Chiefs squad that was starting Brady Quinn. These are not the results you would expect from a good coach.
There are 32 head coaches in the NFL, and there's a lot of turnover. They don't last long if they don't win. So there are always a lot of new faces each season. In 2011, Rivera was one of five new Head Coaches. Three of them had winning records in their first year, and he wasn't one of them. In 2012, seven teams had new head coaches, and four of them have better records than the Panthers do right now.
Maybe instead of waiting for Rivera to learn how to win, we find someone who already knows.
And there's one more thing. The Panthers are starting over with a new General Manager in 2013. What is the logic in limiting the options of the man you're choosing to lead the franchise where the Head Coach is concerned?
A new GM will generally want his own coach. To say that Rivera needs to stay is to either limit your GM candidates to those that agree with you, or to let a prospective GM know immediately that his decisions will be undermined by Richardson. Neither is an attractive option for the Panthers.
Finally, if Ron Rivera remains the Head Coach of the Panthers in 2013, why should we as fans expect the results to be any different than the previous two seasons? What will change, other than a coordinator here or a lineman there? Keeping Rivera will send a clear message to the fans that a six win season is good enough.
And plainly, it isn't.