Charlotte, N.C. — The Ron Rivera era has come to an abrupt end in Carolina.
The Panthers fired their all-time winningest head coach with the team on a four-game losing streak and headed to its third non-playoff season in four years.
“I believe this is the best decision for the long-term success of our team,” Panthers owner David Tepper said in a statement Tuesday.
“I have a great deal of respect for Ron and the contributions he has made to this franchise and to this community.”
Secondary coach Perry Fewell was been named interim head coach.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner will transition to special assistant to the head coach, and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner will serve as offensive coordinator. Tepper said he will begin a search for a new coach immediately.
Rivera was hired in 2011 and was 76-63-1 in the regular season and a 3-4 postseason mark. In nine seasons Rivera guided the team to a Super Bowl appearance, an NFC championship and three NFC South titles.
But the Panthers have fallen on hard times lately following injuries to quarterback Cam Newton the past two seasons.
The Panthers are 5-7 this season and are all but eliminated from playoff contention after a 29-21 loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday at home.
When asked if he was worried about his future with the team on Sunday after his team surrendered a 14-0 lead to the Redskins, Rivera replied, “I’m not worried about my future. I’m worried about this football team. We have a game coming up on Sunday” at Atlanta.
They started this season 5-3. Last year the team was 6-2 but lost seven straight games and finished 7-9.
Since losing to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 four seasons ago, the Panthers are 29-31 and have not won a playoff game. Rivera, 57, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment from The Associated Press.
Rivera’s firing might not be the only change coming. Tepper, who bought the team in 2018, said long-term mediocrity is not an option for the Panthers.
“We are going to take a comprehensive and thorough review of our football operation to make sure we are structured for long-term sustained success,” Tepper said. “Our vision is to find the right mix of old-school discipline and toughness with modern and innovative processes. We will consider a wide range of football executives to complement our current football staff.”
Tepper said the team will hire an assistant general manager and vice president of football operations.
“We all must recognize that this is the first step in a process, but we are committed to building and maintaining a championship culture for our team and our fans,” Tepper said.
Rivera was extremely well liked in the Panthers locker room, and he easily related to players having played nine seasons in the NFL for the Chicago Bears, winning a Super Bowl with Jim McMahon, Walter Payton and others in 1985.
Rivera is a two-time NFL Coach of the Year and likely won’t have a problem landing a job next season.
As for what the move means for Newton remains to be seen given that Tepper has shown he’s not afraid to make big changes.
The legacies of Rivera and Newton have always been intertwined as both came to the Panthers in 2011.
Newton is coming off shoulder and foot injuries and the team could save $19 million under the salary cap if they release or trade him after the season.
Duck season in Pittsburgh
It’s still officially Duck season for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Coach Mike Tomlin confirmed Tuesday that quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges will make his second straight start on Sunday when the Steelers (7-5) visit the Arizona Cardinals (3-8-1). Tomlin named Hodges the starter over Mason Rudolph before last week’s meeting with Cleveland but stressed he was not committing to anything beyond the game against the Browns.
Hodges responded by completing 14 of 21 passes for 212 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 20-13 victory that kept Pittsburgh firmly in the playoff chase with a month to go.
The 23-year-old Hodges is the first undrafted rookie free agent to win his first two NFL starts since Ed Ruppert did it as a replacement player for the Washington Redskins during the 1987 players’ strike.
“He’s performed well in hostile environments, but he just doesn’t have a big sample size,” Tomlin said. “I liked what I saw in LA. I liked what I saw in second half in Cincinnati.”
Rams kick returner JoJo Natson has been placed on injured reserve because of a hamstring injury. Natson is averaging 22.2 yards per kickoff return and 7.8 yards per punt return this season. He injured his hamstring last weekend at Arizona.
... The Titans have claimed cornerback Tramaine Brock off waivers from the Cardinals and have waived center Hroniss Grasu. Adding Brock should boost the depth of a Titans secondary that has been hit hard by injuries.