Sometimes, getting what you wished for might be a curse.
Rivera becomes the fourth head coach in the 18-year history of the franchise, with all four being defensive specialists. Each one of the Panthers' head coaches has had modest success.
Dom Capers, their inaugural head coach from 1995-98, guided the team to the NFC Championship Game in just his second year, but fell apart after that. George Seifert took over a 4-12 team and went 8-8 and 7-9, respectively, before the wheels fell off in 2001 with a 1-15 record. John Fox took over for Seifert and took that 1-15 team to a respectable 7-9 record in his first season and made the playoffs three times in his nine-year tenure, with one Super Bowl appearance to his credit.
The Panthers finished an abysmal 2-14 this season. What worries me is that Rivera is taking over a poorly-constructed team with little talent. Although the Panthers have three good running backs in DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson, they are not talented in many other areas of their team. This roster will need some serious rebuilding.
What also concerns me is the team's tendency to make decisions based on the current situation, instead of being sustainable with at least one eye toward the future. (The Panthers are without a second-round pick in this year's draft because they traded the pick to New England to draft Armanti Edwards, who they picked in the third round. Edwards had one catch this year, as he is trying to convert from college quarterback to pro wide receiver.)
But my major concern for Rivera is that the entire organization has never seen a good passing team, or an offense that can compete at the highest level. Yes, they can run the ball, but when has running the ball translated into Super Bowl wins? The highest they have ever been ranked on offense in franchise history is fourth, back in 1999. Carolina has only had four top-10 offensive teams in their history.
In three of the four instances the Panthers have reached the playoffs, they finished in the top 10 offensively. This is no coincidence. Look, forget the 2000 Ravens and their ability to win the Super Bowl without much help from the offense. The rules have changed, and if a team cannot pass the ball effectively, they won't win.
So, why do the Panthers keep behaving in the same fashion and keep expecting different results? Until they get their offense fixed, then they will continue to spiral down. They might make the same initial level of improvements as their previous head coaching changes have accomplished in the past, but are they ever going to win the big game?
What makes the Panthers' insistence on hiring defensive coaches strange is that their owner is a former NFL wide receiver. Jerry Richardson played in the league, and typically there is a tendency to see the game the way it was played through your experiences. But Richardson keeps signing off on not being offensive.
Bill Walsh once told me, "There are few coaches who can coach the quarterback, and even fewer who can evaluate the quarterback." Therefore, this notion that Rivera can hire someone who might be able to develop an offense that can highlight the skill set of Jimmy Clausen, or whomever is the quarterback, is a little farfetched.
What the Panthers fail to understand is that they must build an organization that can develop coaches, that can develop players and has the understanding to establish a foundation that every year can compete at the highest level. Hiring Ron Rivera is not going to solve what ails the Panthers, as their issues run deeper than just a head coach. Their problems are not all at the middle management level, as they need to reevaluate everything they have done in every area: How they draft, how they trade, how they sign players, how they work. Everything.
This horrendous 2-14 season was not all the work of Fox, who is a good head coach, but he alone did not make all the decisions, or control the franchise.
Also, there has to be doubts about Clausen as to whether he can succeed as a starting quarterback in the league, but how can anyone really properly evaluate him? If Tom Brady was playing in the Panthers' offense, he would not look like Tom Brady. As talented as Brady is, he would struggle, therefore how can anyone tell if Clausen can play? Moreover, how can anyone in the Panthers' organization be qualified to say Clausen is or isn't the answer? Have they ever seen good quarterbacking? I don't think so.
The Panthers have had some success in the past, but that success was never built on solid ground. It was built on the "now" and never has there been a solid foundation in place. Now is the time to rebuild, along with to establish a foundation, and then give the fans a little offense to watch.
Good luck, Ron. You're in for the time of your life.