Panthers not behind in coaching search

jperson@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 3, 2013 

While Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera awaits his long-anticipated meeting with owner Jerry Richardson this weekend, an industry expert said the Panthers – should they decide to fire Rivera – have not lost ground to the seven teams that let their coaches go Monday.

Rivera is scheduled to meet with Richardson on Saturday, six days after the Panthers ended their season with a 44-38 victory at New Orleans. Many of the teams with head-coaching vacancies have begun meeting with or scheduling interviews with candidates.

But former Green Bay Packers vice president Andrew Brandt said the Panthers are not behind on the coaching-hire time line if they make a switch.

“In terms of taking their time, it’s hard for me to believe that waiting a few days is going to put anyone at a disadvantage,” said Brandt, now a sports business analyst for ESPN. “You don’t need a coach until sometime in the spring when you actually have players to coach. But I know everyone wants to jump in and go after the candidates they think are the best.”

Richardson has said nothing publicly about Rivera’s situation since firing general manager Marty Hurney in October. According to Rivera, Richardson told him he wanted the team to trend upward the second half of the season.

The Panthers (7-9) were 6-4 following Hurney’s dismissal, and won their past four games to finish in second place in the NFC South, a game better than Rivera’s first season.

Rivera met with Richardson throughout the season, and said the owner has been supportive.

After Richardson sits down with Rivera this weekend, the Panthers are expected to begin interviewing GM candidates next week. With former New York Giants GM Ernie Accorsi consulting on the search, the Panthers have asked to speak with a pair of Giants executives – director of college scouting Marc Ross and senior pro personnel analyst Dave Gettleman.

Panthers interim GM Brandon Beane also is expected to interview, while Tennessee Titans vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson also has drawn interest from the Panthers, according to a league source.

League sources said the Panthers are targeting an up-and-coming GM with a strong scouting background, as opposed to a retread.

Brandt, who was with the Packers from 1999-2008, said a GM candidate “rising through the ranks might not be in position” to make the call on an existing coach’s future. “If it’s someone very established in the industry, they might have their opinion about what the head coach should be,” Brandt said.

NOTES: Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was named Defensive Rookie of the Month for December after posting a league-high 59 tackles in five games. Kuechly, the ninth overall pick from Boston College, is considered one of the favorites for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Kuechly had 164 stops this season to become the first rookie to lead the league in tackles since Patrick Willis in 2007.

• The Panthers have signed three of their practice-squad players to future contracts – wideout Lamont Bryant, tight end Nelson Rosario and cornerback Nick Hixson.

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