CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Panthers coach Ron Rivera isn’t worried about his tenuous job security, saying he’s committed to playing younger players the next four weeks so he can prepare to coach them next season.
Whether he’ll get that opportunity remains to be seen.
With the Panthers 3-9 and coming off a loss to the NFL-worst Kansas City Chiefs, Rivera’s clearly on the hot seat.
“People say, ‘Oh you’re just getting them ready for the next coach.’ Well, I think I’m getting them ready for me,” he said.
The second-year coach said his goal is to win the next four games, beginning Sunday when the Panthers play host to the Atlanta Falcons.
But he’s quick to add “at the same time, we’ve got to be able to do it with these young guys. If we don’t play these guys, we’ll go into next season with the same questions.”
Rivera is well-liked by his staff and employees at Panthers headquarters, but his team has struggled to find success, particularly in close games, leaving questions about his ability to manage games down the stretch.
The Panthers are 9-19 under Rivera overall and 1-12 in games decided by seven points or less.
When general manager Marty Hurney was fired after a 1-5 start to the season, Rivera said he had a conversation with team owner Jerry Richardson and was informed the team needs to be “trending upward” the rest of the season.
But the Panthers are just 2-4 since Hurney’s departure and they’ve suffered some tough losses since, including a 27-21 defeat to the Chiefs.
Kansas City entered the game 1-10 on the season.
Carolina also blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead against division rival Tampa Bay and lost in overtime.
Rivera said he’s not had any recent conversations with Richardson but still expects to at least finish out the season.
“The last time I talked with him things were good in terms of the things I needed to do,” Rivera said. “I understood the situation and the circumstances and he’s been very fair and open about this.”
Richardson was unavailable for comment Monday.
Rivera started playing rookies more after the team’s playoff hopes began to dissipate.
Three rookies – linebacker Luke Kuechly, offensive guard Amini Silatolu and cornerback Josh Norman – have started all season, but in recent weeks defensive end Frank Alexander, cornerback Josh Thomas and defensive tackle Nate Chandler have seen increased playing time.
Second-year defensive tackle Sione Fua is back in the starting lineup and Rivera is giving rookie punt returner Joe Adams a shot after he fumbled away his opportunities earlier in the season.
“We have some good young talent that is playing and developing more and more,” Rivera said. “As we go forward you can say yes, we’ve played a lot of the young guys and seen some good things from them. We know some of these young guys can play as we look forward to next year. So that’s a big plus.”
Second-year quarterback Cam Newton, in particular, has impressed Rivera of late.
In the past three weeks, last year’s AP Offensive Rookie of the Year has completed 49 of 84 passes for 790 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
He had three touchdown passes in the loss to Kansas City.
“His outlook on things, the way he perceives things and the way he’s handled himself the last few weeks has been outstanding,” Rivera said. “He’s played very well and given us chances to win. We have to take advantage of that.”
As for trending up, Rivera said he believes there are some areas that have improved despite the team’s record, but clearly more improvement is needed.
“I think there are some positions that definitely have to be looked at and evaluated,” Rivera said. “We have an opportunity to play Atlanta and a chance to play New Orleans in our division and that’s a chance to send a message.”