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."
This is Tepper's first major move on the football side of things since he took over the Carolina Panthers. He said he will begin a search for a new coach immediately.
Secondary coach Perry Fewell has been named interim head coach. Fewell, who grew up in Gaston County and played for South Point High School, was also elevated to interim head coach with the Buffalo Bills in 2009, after Dick Jauron was fired mid-season.
Twice Fewell has been an NFL defensive coordinator -- with the Bills from 2006 through 2009 and with the New York Giants from 2010 through 2015.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner will transition to special assistant to the head coach, and his son, quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, will serve as offensive coordinator.
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 three NFC South titles, an NFC championship and a Super Bowl appearance.
But the Panthers have fallen on hard times lately following injuries to quarterback Cam Newton the past two seasons.
"It's not easy to have those kinds of conversations with people you have in such high regard," Tepper said.
Tepper said his decision to relieve Rivera came now, rather than the end of the season, because other teams have already started looking for replacement head coaches. He said he wanted to get that same head start, while being respectful with Rivera.
"I was not going to go out there and start looking and do things behind Ron Rivera's back," Tepper said.
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)."
The Panthers 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.
Full statement from David Tepper:
"I believe this is the best decision for the long-term success of our team. I have a great deal of respect for Ron and the contributions he has made to this franchise and to this community. I wish him the best. I will immediately begin the search for the next head coach of the Carolina 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. 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. One change that we will implement is hiring 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."
Off the field, Rivera was heavily involved in the community, serving as the honorary chair of the Humane Society of Charlotte. He has also helped raise thousands of dollars for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
Rivera told a Panthers staff writer he has many fond memories in Charlotte and with the Panthers. He called himself fortunate and said he thinks back to those fond memories over the last nine seasons and how much fun they have had.
Rivera said he has enjoyed being the Panthers' head coach.
A message from @CameronNewton to @RiverboatRonHC on Instagram:— Matt Harris (@MHarrisWSOC9) December 3, 2019
"Will be forever grateful because of the impact you had on my life. Thank you for giving me an opportunity. Thank you for believing in me. I can go on & on but most importantly Thank You for allowing me to be me." pic.twitter.com/dIIDZ4ylGI
After Rivera's firing, many players took to social media to share their heartfelt reactions to the news, and memories of their now former coach.
Quarterback Cam Newton posted on Instagram saying, "Will be forever grateful because of the impact you had on my life. Thank you for giving me an opportunity. Thank you for believing in me. I can go on and on but most importantly, thank you for allowing me to be me. This one hurt deep."
On Twitter, tight end Greg Olsen wrote about the moment he was traded to the Panthers and what others across the league said about Rivera.
On the day I was traded to the @Panthers in 2011, every player who played for Ron in Chicago said the same thing to me on my way out. "You are going to play for a great coach, but a better man".— Greg Olsen (@gregolsen88) December 4, 2019
I am so proud to have shared this 9 yr journey together with you @RiverboatRonHC
"On the day I was traded to the Panthers in 2011, every player who played for Ron in Chicago said the same thing to me on my way out," Olsen said. "'You are going to play for a great coach, but a better man.' I am so proud to have shared this nine-year journey together with you."
And, quarterback Kyle Allen posted on his Instagram about how Rivera always believed in him, when many did not.
"This man believed in me when not many did. I'm forever grateful our paths crossed and you gave me this opportunity."
Respect 👊 pic.twitter.com/XMf9ygKRup— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) December 4, 2019
Fans Channel 9 spoke with had mixed emotions about the decision to let him go.
"I thought he was a great head coach. I thought he got along with his players really well. He seemed like a guy who just told you how it was," fan Jeff Sobas said.
Rivera's firing might not be the only change coming.
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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.
(Watch the video below as Channel 9's Gina Esposito breaks down what Tepper may be looking for in a new head coach and where Rivera could go next)
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.
Kyle Allen has filled in for Newton this season at quarterback and is 5-5 as a starter.
Panthers leaning toward offensive-minded head coach?
The Panthers are in the market for a new head coach, and owner David Tepper hinted he's targeting someone with an offensive background.
Tepper fired longtime coach Ron Rivera -- whose background is on defense -- on Tuesday following a four-game losing streak that left the Panthers (5-7) nearly out of playoff contention for the third time in four seasons.
"In the modern NFL, I think there is a preference for offensive coordinators (and) I think there are reasons for that," Tepper said Tuesday. "That does not mean that if you find somebody fantastic on the defensive side, I won't consider it. If he has old-school discipline and modern and innovative processes."
Tepper said the NFL has implemented rules that favor the offense, which benefits having an offensive coach.
"That's why you're having more people go that way," Tepper said. "I think you have a lot of people on that side accepting the more modern processes."
It does not appear Tepper will be looking to hire a college head coach. He made it clear that he has some reservations about that, saying he understands how difficult that transition can be.
"That doesn't mean I'm closing it off, but you've got to understand, anybody who's been around football understands the difficulty of that transition from the college game to here and different demands here," Tepper said.
Tepper said he'll form an in-house committee to lead the coaching search, which will commence immediately.
One of the qualities he's looking for in his next coach is "somebody who will try new things and if they don't work, fix it and make it better. That's it."
"You want to be successful? I don't care what you do, admit when you do things wrong," Tepper continued. "Fix what you do and keep doing the things you do right. It's not that hard. What's hard is for people to admit that they've made a mistake."
Regardless of who he hires, Tepper must adhere to the Rooney Rule which requires NFL owners to interview minority candidates.
Tepper said that's not an issue. He has already promoted secondary coach Perry Fewell, who is an African-American, as the team's interim coach for the final four games. He chose Fewell over Norv Turner, who has been an NFL head coach in the past with an offensive background.
Tepper called Fewell the best man for the job right now, calling him a "general" who commands attention, and he indicated this is essentially an audition for him for next season.
"I'm going to look for the best person I can," Tepper said. "Rest assured, Perry Fewell is not in that spot because he's African-American. He's in that spot because he's the best man in this organization for the job. Period."
In addition to a new coach, Tepper said he'll be hiring an assistant general manager and vice president of football operations to aid current GM Marty Hurney, whose job appears safe for now. Tepper lauded Hurney's ability to scout college players.
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