On a day when many of his colleagues lost their jobs as NFL coaches, the Carolina Panthers’ Ron Rivera stood at a podium and talked about winning his first NFC South championship. After his team lost three of its first four games, many speculated that he would be one of those unemployed coaches on Monday.
Rivera said he and his team are right where he thought they would be when he arrived in 2011.
“By the third year," Rivera said, "I expected to be in the playoffs."
Rivera’s first two seasons were marked by slow starts, and that pattern reared its head again when a loss to the Arizona Cardinals put the team’s record at 1-3. It was after that game that rumors of Rivera being removed as head coach began to surface. Since then, the Panthers have won 11 of their final 12 games, clinching the team’s first division crown since 2008 with a 21-20 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
Former Panthers (12-4) offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was fired as Cleveland Browns head coach on Monday. Chudzinski was fired just under a year after taking the Browns job. Rivera said he hasn’t talked to Chudzinski since his firing was announced, but that he empathizes with he and other coaches like Leslie Frazier, who was fired by the Minnesota Vikings.
“I was surprised, I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “It’s just surprising and you feel for those guys because it’s tough.”
As for his team, Rivera said he’s happy with the resilience they have shown this year.
“They have the confidence now to go into a fourth quarter and believe they can get it done,” he said.
The Panthers will get a bye week before hosting a playoff game at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 12. Rivera said while his team is happy with what it has accomplished, they aren’t resting on their success.
“Satisfying, but not satisfied,” he said. “There’s a lot more to go.”