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January 11, 2011

Update: Panthers to introduce Rivera today

San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera has reached a deal to become the Carolina Panthers' next head coach, according to sources close to the organization.

The Panthers have scheduled a 5 p.m. news conference at Bank of America Stadium to introduce Rivera, who will become the fourth head coach in the team's 17-year history.

Terms of Rivera's deal have not been disclosed.

Rivera, 49, has been in Charlotte the past two days meeting with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and other team officials. The former Chicago Bears linebacker interviewed with Panthers general manager Marty Hurney and team president Danny Morrison last week in California.

He was one of four NFL defensive coordinators to receive an interview. The others were the New York Giants' Perry Fewell, Cleveland's Rob Ryan and San Francisco's Greg Manusky.

The Observer reported Monday that Rivera was expected to be named head coach, barring a snag in negotiations or an 11th-hour change of heart.

Rivera, who is of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent, becomes the first Latino head coach in the NFL since Tom Flores, who last coached Seattle during the 1994 season.

Rivera directed the NFL's top-ranked defense this season in San Diego. Rivera has interviewed for eight head-coaching jobs over the past five years, including six after the 2006 season, when he was defensive coordinator of the Bears in the Super Bowl.

Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen congratulated Rivera on his Twitter feed. Tight end Jeff King told the Observer the Panthers made a good hire.

“I heard guys that played for the Bears and other places just say how good of a coach he is, how knowledgeable he is. He's a film guy, watches a lot of tape. That's to his advantage," King said.

"He's kind of a grinder, worked his way up. He was a good player for a number of years and can rely on that experience, as well. He seems like a good fit for what the Panthers want to do.”

Each of the Panthers' three previous head coaches were former defensive coordinators: Dom Capers, George Seifert and John Fox.

A second-round draft choice by Chicago in 1984, Rivera spent his 9-year playing career with the Bears. Rivera played for the Super Bowl-winning team in 1985. He had his only career touchdown that season when he returned a fumble for a score.

He developed into a starting linebacker, and served on the Bears' broadcast team for a Chicago TV station before going into coaching in 1997.

Rivera's 14-year coaching career includes stops in Philadelphia, Chicago and San Diego. As the Bears' coordinator in 2004-06, Rivera's defenses ranked among the top five in the NFL.

Rivera was San Diego's inside linebackers coach before Chargers coach Norv Turner fired defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell midway though the 2008 season and promoted Rivera. In Rivera's first full season running San Diego's 3-4 defense in 2009, the Chargers finished 16th in the league in total defense and 11th against the pass.

The Chargers were first in the NFL this season in total defense (271.6 yards allowed a game) and pass defense (177.8 yards) and ranked 10th in points allowed (20.1 per game).

Former Panthers defensive back Dante Wesley, who played for Rivera during the Chicago Bears' 2006 Super Bowl season, said he thought Rivera would have been a head coach before now.

"He has good leadership qualities," said Wesley, who played this season with the Detroit Lions. "He's a very calm guy. He's very poised in a lot of situations. He has the head coach mentality. He knows how to monitor a game and knows how to control a lot of things."

Wesley also said Rivera's playing background gave him credibility in the locker room.

"A lot of players love him. He's a players' coach," Wesley said. "He understands the game because he played the game himself."

Rivera, the son of an Army officer, lived in Germany, Panama, Washington and Maryland before his family settled in California. He was an All-American at California before the Bears drafted him.

The next question becomes who joins him to modernize the Panthers' offense. Though the Panthers' focus has been on defensive coordinators, Richardson said last week team officials would have a stronger voice in the direction of the offense than with previous hires. The Panthers had the NFL's worst offense this season, finishing with franchise lows in nearly every major category.

One choice likely would be the Chargers' Rob Chudzinski, but there are a number of complications there.
According to a league source with knowledge of the conversations, Chudzinski was making calls as early as Sunday night to potential offensive assistants across the NFL, telling at least one he might have something for them with the Panthers.

A former player, Chudzinski, 42, is a respected offensive mind who could diversify the Panthers' passing game.
League sources expect the Panthers to meet resistance from the Chargers in any efforts to bring their assistants to Charlotte. However, Chudzinski's contract is to expire at the end of this season. He would be able to talk with the Panthers.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Miami Dolphins have received permission to interview him.
Another option with ties to Rivera would be Ron Turner, the wide receivers coach in Indianapolis, who worked with Rivera in Chicago.

But the Panthers might have a different coordinator in mind for Rivera. As much emphasis as Richardson and Hurney have placed on fixing the league's lowest-ranked offense, they've done background work on a number of candidates.

 --Joseph Person and Darin Gantt

Posted by Observer Sports on January 11, 2011 at 02:28 PM | Permalink


No offense to Rivera, but given that no deals will be reached with players until after the new CBA, you've got to wonder why the Panthers didn't at least try to talk to some assistants from teams actually in (or recently out of) the playoffs. Wonder if it's a money/control thing?

Posted by: Phillip | Jan 11, 2011 2:37:26 PM

Rivera was responsible for the number 1 defense in the NFL this year. I think that makes him a great choice!

Posted by: Tom | Jan 11, 2011 2:56:16 PM

@Tom. No shi* !Not to mention, the guy was a hell of a player. Good move.

Posted by: nasty 704 | Jan 11, 2011 3:05:24 PM

@ Phillip-The reason for not hiring an assistant in the playoffs or made it to them, is because that they've reached the playoffs. They're in a downward direction. You want someone who's wanting to get there in the first place.

Posted by: Answer | Jan 11, 2011 3:13:40 PM

nice hire...still, a lot depends on the staff to be added and the system to be implemented

Posted by: BarelyCareAnymore | Jan 11, 2011 3:22:36 PM

I haven't given up hope that I may yet need a name change :)

Posted by: BarelyCareAnymore | Jan 11, 2011 3:24:13 PM

"It is what it is." Come on guys, you know you're gonna miss that! Right? ....right? .....hello??

Posted by: John Fox | Jan 11, 2011 3:25:56 PM

Anything would be better than the experience of watching water boil this next year again with Coach Vanilla. Rivera has definetly seen a dynamic offense in action and what a good QB brings to it.

Posted by: Sportsdon | Jan 11, 2011 3:46:51 PM

Hate we missed waiting on a shot at mularkey, but the only really important coach we're gonna hire in the up comming weeks is the offensive line coach. Without a super talented O-line coach, everything else is just squat! btw, love jordan gross, but pro bowl? somebody is drinking their crack from a glass. Gross is gonna get somebody killed over there on that blind side. Who knows, maybe we'll hire a left handed QB. haha

Posted by: stork302 | Jan 11, 2011 3:57:20 PM

Mike McCoy would be perfect for OC if we're drafting a QB and for developing JC or another young QB. That position has ben our weakest for years now.We need to draft or sign an elite level QB.

Posted by: ripp | Jan 11, 2011 4:43:27 PM

So where does Carolina turn for OC? Mularkey will likely get a HC shot, but maybe the Falcons QB coach (whoever that is)? They've done a good job bringing up Matt Ryan. And for QB, perhaps a play for Kolb isn't out of the question. He wants out of Philly, is young and has FAR more to offer than our stable of bums, and wants to prove he can be the guy.

Posted by: Panther Dan | Jan 11, 2011 5:16:06 PM

Does anyone know where I can see the news conference?

Posted by: tbhartsell | Jan 11, 2011 6:22:14 PM

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