Ron Rivera is still a good NFL head coach. He just wasn’t the right coach any longer for the Panthers, who fired Rivera midway through his ninth season.
With the stability he brought to Carolina, his reputation around the NFL and the spike of penultimate success — leading his team to Super Bowl 50 after the 2015 season — Rivera will be in play for other presumed openings that will be created on or before “Black Monday.”
There are plenty of teams better positioned to become big winners sooner than the rebuilding Panthers with whom Rivera would be more of an asset. Rivera’s sudden availability will get notice around the league for owners looking to make an upgrade.
Here are the five landing spots that make the most sense, with two clear leaders because of direct connections to Rivera, should they move on from their current coaches.
1. New York Giants
Pat Shurmur is likely on his way out with the Giants on track to end the 2019 season on a 12-game losing streak. Rivera coached the Panthers to that Super Bowl four years ago, but then-Sporting News executive of the year and current Giants general manager Dave Gettleman was the architect.
Daniel Jones has some promise as a young franchise quarterback and Rivera is used to having an elite all-purpose back like Saquon Barkley. He has meshed his coaching well with Dave Shula, his former Panthers offensive coordinator who’s currently in that same capacity for the Giants.
Defensively, Rivera messed with the 3-4 in the Carolina for the first time as a play-caller with mixed results: A better edge pass rush but a much-worse run defense. The Giants have lost their way trying to incorporate that base alignment with James Bettcher. The Giants’ history has been about a strong front four, and that was the foundation of Rivera’s best Panthers teams. He could help re-establish that scheme to get him and the team back on track defensively.
The Giants unfortunately lost rookie standout inside linebacker Ryan Connelly to a torn ACL, but he can easily be the new Luke Kuechly for Rivera’s new defense. While Jones can be molded as a top-flight QB and leader on the other side of the ball. In a copycat league, the Giants can turn the Panthers’ best winning blueprint into their own, much like the Bills and former Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott have done elsewhere in New York.
2. Cleveland Browns
The Browns’ defense needs some fixing, and reuniting Rivera with Steve Wilks to fix the front and the secondary would make a ton of sense. Rivera also would bring some much-needed discipline and accountability to every part of their team, something that Freddie Kitchens has been incapable of doing.
With Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr., Kareem Hunt, Jarvis Landry, the Browns have an offense that’s ready to win big now, and Rivera can find the right man to maximize and streamline all those skill players in a better scheme, with an emphasis on bolstering the line. Rivera’s gritty mind-set as a former linebacker would be ideal to match wits with Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh in the AFC North, too.
3. Atlanta Falcons
This would be weird, wouldn’t it? That’s why it’s a distant third. Geographically speaking, this wouldn’t be too big of a move, and it would come with the revenge bonus of facing the Panthers twice a season. But for now, the Falcons may end up sticking with Dan Quinn.
If they don’t, you can bet Rivera’s name will come up for Arthur Blank as a one-time successful and still highly respected division rival. The Falcons, with Matt Ryan, have an offense ready to win now and a 4-3 defense in need of some fixing, with the right personnel upgrades on the defensive edge and secondary.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
File them under another southeast alternative for Rivera. The Jaguars have some good talent up front on their 4-3 but need reinforcements at linebacker and the secondary to reestablish the dominant defense they had just two seasons ago with Todd Wash. Gardner Minshew, D.J. Chark, Leonard Fournette and Dede Westbrook are good offensive foundation pieces, too. The Jaguars can go back to winning faster with Rivara then by sticking with Doug Marrone.
5. Washington Redskins
You can’t rule out the team that Rivera coached against in his final game for the Panthers. They also could use some defensive-minded discipline and steadfast nature after sticking with Jay Gruden for way too long with limited results. But then again, why should Rivera attach himself to Dwayne Haskins and Derrius Guice but with a reeling defense in an unfamiliar ownership and shaky front-office environment when the Giants are the much better job and fit for him?
The odds are strongly with Rivera to land in New York, with Cleveland a relative close second, should those teams look for positive change as expected.