However, Rivera understands that repeating last season's one-and-done playoff performance is unacceptable.
Rivera said the coaching award "validates us," but the Panthers want to be discussed in the same breath with the best teams this offseason.
"We went to stay relevant," Rivera said. "We want to be in everybody's conversation."
The Panthers have a plethora of decisions to make this offseason. First, general manager Dave Gettleman must decide whether or not he can afford to retain pass rusher Greg Hardy. An extension for Cam Newton likely will be discussed. Nearly the entire secondary, starting with free-agent corner Captain Munnerlyn, also will need to be addressed.
Rivera knows that his team needs to grow in terms of talent, but it also must mature to win in the playoffs.
He said his team allowed the San Francisco 49ers to "get us out of our game and we fell into it." Penalties and altercations are the signs of a young team that is not ready for the pressures of the playoffs.
"We lost our composure," Rivera said. "I should have said, 'Sit down, shut up and do your job.' But I got caught up in it, too, offering some choice words to the referees."
Most teams need to be kicked in the pants in the playoffs to learn for the future. Pushing past the status quo -- to use Rivera's word -- is a learned action. Understanding your failings is the first step in the learning process.