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The Panthers shouldn’t fire Ron Rivera

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But they should probably fire Mike Shula

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers fans were rightfully upset this morning following an atrocious loss to a floundering Bears team. There are many reasonable calls across the internet demanding many of our coaches be terminated. After almost six and a half years of Ron Rivera, Panthers fans are ready for a change.

I have written on more than one occasion that Rivera’s ‘conservative’ decision making in close games is flawed. I have hope that it is not a fatal flaw, however, and I think that firing Ron Rivera right now would be a mistake. The common follow-up to shouts for his job is to replace him with our defensive coordinator, Steve Wilks. The logic goes that our defense is good, therefore their coach should lead our team. I would argue that saddling Wilks with head coaching duties would distract from his ability to make magic with the spare parts that injuries have left him with this season. It would also remove any positive effect that Rivera is having on what is traditionally perceived as ‘his’ side of the ball.

This brings us back to Rivera’s main flaw: an unwillingness to chase points when points are absolutely necessary. This generally and most obviously manifests itself in punting the ball away in desperate moments. It removed any chance of us winning the Saints game, which I’ll admit we probably would have lost anyway, and it removed any chance of us winning the Bears game, which was such a mess I can’t even begin to guess what would have happened.

We joke all the time now about the death of Riverboat Ron, but we don’t consider where the nick name came from in the first place. That gambling, risk-taking, 4th-down converting maverick joined us in 2013, two years into Rivera’s tenure with the Panthers. In other words, he learned to become more aggressive and in doing so he saved that season and he saved his job.

I am at a loss to explain how he forgot those lessons, but he should be able to learn them again. At the time, he was coaching for his job. This time, the Panthers are in desperate need of change. Nothing would threaten Rivera’s job while also accomplishing major changes to the offense like firing Mike Shula. That would be a strong demonstration of the ever-shrinking length of Rivera’s leash while also pushing new blood into the play-calling and offensive decision making.

I’m not knocking Shula’s play designs (I won’t even claim to be qualified for that) or his game planning, but there are clear problems on his side of the ball that, when they present in the first quarter of a game, damn near guarantee that the Panthers will struggle for the entire match, with only brief flashes of excitement as Cam pulls another rabbit out of his ass. That speaks to being predictable and inflexible in play-calling.

These years are the prime of Cam Newton’s career. He is a generational talent. He and Panthers fans deserve better than serial mismanagement. He can’t be expected to improvise a hall-of-fame career.

I would even be OK if Hurney and Rivera decided to retain Shula but surrender play-calling duties to somebody else on the staff. Perhaps Ken Dorsey, the quarterbacks coach, could fill the role so long as he had complete autonomy as a play-caller. Any additional miscommunication in a game would result in even more than our usual, even traditional, delay of game penalties and wasted time outs.

I honestly don’t care what, specifically, the Panthers do. They just need to change something and that change needs to be dramatic enough for fans to recognize that the coaches are finally beginning to understand their mistakes.

Poll

Who should get fired?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    Only Mike Shula
    (2104 votes)
  • 1%
    Only Ron Rivera
    (41 votes)
  • 34%
    Both Shula and Rivera
    (1274 votes)
  • 8%
    No one
    (327 votes)
3746 votes total Vote Now