Ron Rivera understands his options heading into a pivotal season: Evolve or become defunct.
"I have to evolve, I have to change," Rivera said. "This team has to evolve, this team has to change. ... I've got to step up. I've got to set the standard."
Rivera ended the season on a semi-hot seat after the Panthers lost seven straight games to collapse from 6-2 to out of playoff position.
The losing streak started with a blowout loss on a Thursday night against Pittsburgh. Rivera admitted that the embarrassment didn't set off the alarms that something was wrong after the next two losses came by a combined four points to Detroit and Seattle.
"The biggest mistake, the biggest realization, I wish had come (earlier)," he said. "But we were playing well. We were winning. It's not like we were getting blown out, other than in Pittsburgh. I missed it. That's why I missed it. If, after Pittsburgh, Detroit had been a 17-point blowout, now all of the sudden the bells and whistles are going off."
Rivera will keep the defensive play-calling duties in 2019 and knows he must not fall back into a rut. His experience and introspection have led him to the realization that as the NFL evolves -- however slowly -- so too much the men in charge.
"There are some things that I have to look at and be honest with myself about," he said, "and a lot of it starts with me."
Rivera understands another repeat of last season could mean the end to his nine-year stint in Carolina. The 57-year-old coach isn't going to go out doing the same old routine.
"Either we evolve or we go extinct," Rivera said.