Embattled Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes his job is safe at least through the end of the season.
Based on his conversations with team owner Jerry Richardson, Rivera said Monday he thinks he will be allowed to coach the final six games.
After that there are no guarantees.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I won’t know until after the season,” Rivera said. “I know that much. And I know that nothing’s going to happen until after the season. So what our guys have to understand is that they’re playing for now. They’re playing for each other.”
Rivera, who is 8-18 in his second year with the Panthers, said he would keep his discussions with Richardson private. Previously, Rivera has indicated he was told the Panthers had to be “trending upward” to keep his job.
“As I’ve already said, he’s been great and supportive about it. It’s, ‘Ron, we’ve got to do things. We’ve got to get things going. It’s tough and frustrating and I know it’s frustrating on you and your coaches,’ because it’s frustrating on him,” Rivera said.
“He’s been outstanding. He’s been fair and open and I talked with him on Friday. And he’s just been as classy as ever in that situation. And I could not ask for a better set of circumstances.”
Richardson fired longtime general manager Marty Hurney last month following a home loss to Dallas, and hired former New York Giants GM Ernie Accorsi to consult on the GM search.
The Panthers (2-8) have lost three of four games since Hurney was fired, including a heartbreaking 27-21 overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Panthers squandered an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead by allowing the Buccaneers to score on their final three drives, with the last two covering 80 yards.
The loss dropped the Panthers to 1-11 in games decided by a touchdown or less under Rivera. The close losses have caused Rivera to second-guess some of his late-game decisions.
“I like to believe that we are doing enough, we’re doing things the right way,” he said. “Not completely, obviously, because we’ve lost too many games in close situations.”
A couple of players said after Sunday’s loss that Rivera does not deserve all the blame.
“It’s kind of unfair. But we’re not winning games right now. It’s tough,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “Coach Rivera coaches his tail off for us. It’s not fair to him. We’re not producing. We just have to do a better job as players going out there and producing.”
Defensive end Charles Johnson, one of the team captains, said he would support Rivera for as long as Rivera is the Panthers’ coach.
“You can’t worry about who’s going to go, who’s going to stay. That’s for the front office to do upstairs,” Johnson said. “I’m going to fight with coach ‘til the end. No matter what he does, no matter where he goes, I’m going to ride with him.”
Rivera received a four-year deal worth a reported $11.2 million when he succeeded John Fox after the 2010 season. Rivera, 50, an assistant coach for 14 years, interviewed for eight other head-coaching positions before the Panthers hired him.
The Panthers won four of their final six games in 2011 to go 6-10. But they have struggled to finish games this season, losing four after leading in the fourth quarter.
Rivera said he still believes in himself, adding he is more concerned with the future of his players and coaching staff.
“I’m not concerned about me, I’m really not. I’m concerned about them,” Rivera said. “We have a group of coaches that I believe in 100 percent. I’ll be all right. No matter what happens I’ll be OK. Whether I’m here next year or not, I will be A-OK.
“. . . I will make things happen whether it’s here or somewhere else. I will. I believe in who I am and I firmly do believe in my abilities as a coach.
“Do I have a lot to learn? Most certainly. And I have learned an awful lot, and I’ve got the gray hairs to prove it.”
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