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Rooting For Rivera

By Don Campbell
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The Carolina Panthers have under-delivered tremendously through a quarter of the season. If you believe this team was over-valued, count me in as a culprit for perpetuating that sentiment. Keeping with the fall season, fans and media alike are distributing blame pie to a lot of different people. This week, Ron Rivera seems to be the recipient of the biggest piece, and from my perspective, unfairly so.

It’s always funny to me how quickly people will call for another man’s job, and essentially, his livelihood. It’s almost inhumane. I get it, it’s a “what have you done for me lately” business and right now the smell of a mis-managed first half clock and questionable decision to punt or go freshly emanates from the minds of Panther fans everywhere. Eventually ownership has to take a hard line. Now is not that time. Rivera has 20 games of experience as an NFL head coach, he is 7-13. Hardly enough time to make a fair evaluation. Meatball fans everywhere always expect we’re missing out on the next Lombardi, Halas, or Landry. Good luck with that.

People will question Rivera’s credentials as well. How could you hire a guy with no head coaching experience to rebuild this fledgling franchise? While there were others available with documented success, there is a cheap, thoughtless quality to overpaying a big name to ease fans minds. For that I applaud the Panthers. They took a chance and often the key to success is identifying a diamond in the rough. In Chicago, Rivera’s defenses were ranked in the top 5 in two of the three years he was there. In San Diego, he took over a defense in the middle of 2008, and over the course of three years, brought them from the bottom of the barrel to the top ranked defense in the league in 2010. The experience is there. The success is there.

“He’s a defensive coach, and his defense is terrible.” WFNZ studio walls have absorbed this cry for the last two days, and I agree the defense is bad. However, having walked in on the dubious honor of picking first in the draft, and the ensuing Cam Newton selection, his focus was immediately and imperatively shifted. That said, Rivera has only had one offseason and 4 regular season games to truly focus on the defense. Not to mention the series of ridiculous contracts awarded to underperforming personnel with which he is currently plagued. The defensive line is not good enough to be devoid of multiple blitz schemes, and the secondary is not good enough to lack linebacker help either. Collectively, the talent simply isn’t there. Probably why Haruki Nakamura was still on the field at the end of last week’s game. His replacement, Sherrod Martin.

Certainly there are moments in Rivera’s tenure that evoke deserved criticism. Fine. I’m not asking you to withhold those. I’m not even suggesting that when it’s all said and done, Rivera is the right fit. I’m simply suggesting that there are legitimate reasons he’s here, he deserves every opportunity succeed, and an exercise in patience is in order. Distribute the pie fairly. There’s plenty to go around.

Alec Campbell

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