Panthers keep coordinators, but fire three assistants

jperson@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 9, 2013 

Head coach Ron Rivera is staying with the Panthers, but three of his assistants are leaving.

Running backs coach John Settle, receivers coach Fred Graves and linebackers coach Warren Belin have been relieved of their duties, the Panthers announced Tuesday.

The departures came three days after Panthers owner Jerry Richardson met with Rivera and decided to retain him for a third season.

Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will remain in their current roles, sources said.

Rivera fired special teams coordinator Brian Murphy during the season and promoted assistant special teams coach Richard Rodgers. It is unclear whether Rivera will keep Rodgers, who is popular among players, as the leader of special teams.

If so, Rivera would have three openings to fill.

Rivera said recently he probably should have had an assistant with NFL head-coaching experience on his staff to help with the administrative and organizational aspects of the job. Several ex-head coaches with ties to Rivera are currently unemployed, including Norv Turner and Dave Wannstedt, who was Buffalo’s defensive coordinator last season.

But with the Panthers keeping both their coordinators, it could be difficult to entice coaches of their stature to take a job as a position coach.

The three coaches let go Tuesday all were part of Rivera’s inaugural staff, hired after Rivera succeeded John Fox in January 2011. Each has a year remaining on his contract, according to sources.

Rivera, 13-19 in two seasons with Carolina, waited a week before learning his fate during his Saturday morning meeting with Richardson. But staff changes were considered imminent following the Panthers’ 7-9 season – their fourth in a row without a playoff berth.

“These were tough decisions because each of these coaches has played an instrumental role on our staff over the last two seasons,” Rivera said in a statement released by the team. “However, I have decided to go in a different direction at these positions.”

Settle, a Reidsville native and former Appalachian State and NFL running back, coached at Wisconsin before coming to Charlotte. His only previous NFL coaching experience was a three-year stint with Cleveland that saw him move with the Browns to Baltimore in 1996.

Despite franchise rushing leader DeAngelo Williams getting benched and Jonathan Stewart missing seven games with ankle injuries in 2012, the Panthers finished ninth in the league in rushing with 130.5 yards a game. Of the eight teams ranked higher than Carolina in rushing, six made the playoffs.

The Panthers’ rushing numbers were skewed by Williams’ team-record 210-yard performance in Week 17 at New Orleans, which gave up the most yards in a season in NFL history. Also, Cam Newton rushed for 741 yards to become the first quarterback to lead his team in rushing since Donovan McNabb in 2000.

Williams and Stewart, who make a combined $44 million in guaranteed money, each had off years.

Belin, who grew up in Marshville and played linebacker at Wake Forest, had no NFL coaching experience when Rivera hired him from Georgia in 2011. Belin, who spent eight seasons at Vanderbilt, was an assistant coach at William & Mary in the 1990s when McDermott played for the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) school.

Graves, who was Panthers wideout Steve Smith’s receivers coach at Utah, served as an assistant for four NFL clubs before joining Rivera’s staff.

Under Graves, Smith posted back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the first time since 2007-08.

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