TAMPA — Ron Rivera lost Cam Newton to a season-ending foot injury after Week 2 and still managed to win four straight games with an undrafted, 23-year-old at quarterback in Kyle Allen to go 5-3.
Less than two months later, the Panthers have lost four in a row to drop to 5-7 and Rivera was fired Tuesday after nine seasons.
That’s how quickly things can change in the NFL.
How does this affect the Bucs?
Well, Rivera was a pretty darn good coach. He went 79-67-1 during nearly nine seasons, becoming the winningest head coach in Panthers history with four playoff appearances and a loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
In addition to Newton, the Panthers also lost defensive linemen Kawaan Short and Dontari Poe for the season to injuries. Like the Bucs, they were unable to take advantage of a division that included the Saints losing Drew Brees to an injury and the Atlanta Falcons winning only three games as coach Dan Quinn may now have the hottest coaching seat in the NFL.
The Bucs split with the Panthers this season, winning a dramatic Thursday night game in Carolina before committing six turnovers in a loss in London in Oct.
Perry Fewell has been named the interim head coach while offensive coordinator Norv Turner will transition to special assistant to the head coach.
Owner David Tepper said recently he would not accept mediocrity. At this point, the Bucs aspire to it.
The Panthers and Bucs own the same record under vastly different journeys.
By firing Rivera so early, the Panthers will have their pick of the coaching candidates. And because the college football season isn’t over, they can even include some of the bigger names in college football on their head coaching wish list.
Tepper also said the team intends to hire an assistant general manager as well as a vice president of football operations, meaning he has a check on general manager Marty Hurney.
Assuming the Falcons fire Dan Quinn as expected, it means Bruce Arians will be the second-most tenured head coach in the division behind the Saints Sean Payton.
Being the first NFL team to have a head coaching opening has its advantages. The Panthers can begin the process of finding a replacement for Rivera before the college football season is wrapped up. Had they waited until the end of the regular season, it may have been tougher to attract a coach from the college game because of recruiting.
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Being the first team to hire a new head coach would mean the Panthers will have their choice of assistant coaches to formulate the staff.
Now you have to wonder if the Panthers have any interest in someone on Arians’ coaching staff such as offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich or defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
We should all find out soon. Carolina has lost a good coach, but they may find a better one. That won’t help the Bucs.