You could not pick up a paper or go to the Internet to read something about Ron Rivera’s coaching future without seeing two of the most overused words in virtually every story, “trending upward.”
Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson coined the phrase as a way to gauge whether his head coach would return for another season and it appears that he was satisfied with the team’s late season surge.
It didn’t hurt that fans had overwhelmingly supported Rivera in a Charlotte Observer poll.
After meeting with Richardson on Saturday, Rivera will return for a third season in Charlotte and the news was relayed by public relations head Charlie Dayton saying, “He's going about normal preparations for next season.” The news drew immediate reaction from members of the Panthers’ squad.
"I'm very happy he's back," tight end Greg Olsen told The Associated Press. "Obviously the season wasn't what we were looking for, but I think the way we finished showed that we're heading in the right direction. The guys have a lot of faith in coach Rivera and guys didn't want to let him down. I think the way we finished, winning four straight, shows a lot about the direction we're headed and our faith in him as our coach moving forward. I'm glad that things worked out."
"That's awesome news," said offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner. "I'm excited about it. I think Ron has done a great job and I think he will be the first to admit he's learned a lot since he was hired. He definitely has the respect of the guys in the locker room because he's played the game and he treats guys the right way."
According to reports, players were allowed to comment but others in the organization were not by orders of Richardson. There was speculation that Rivera will have to make some changes to his staff as a condition of his return.
The Panthers finished the season 7-9 but ended on a four game roll besting the Falcons, Chargers, Raiders and Saints, sweeping the season series with New Orleans. The upward trend started almost immediately after general manager Marty Hurney was let go by Richardson winning six of their last ten games.
Richardson made the decision even though he did not have a GM in place which is an indication the team will move toward what some would call an up-and-coming executive and not a retread.
Despite a horrible start the Panthers finished the year 12th in total offense – they were 12th or better in total yards and rushing - and 10th in overall defense – ranking 14th or better in yards and against the pass and run.