Panther coach Ron Rivera is about to finish up the third year on his original four-year contract, which was worth a reported $11.2 million.
If he does not get an extension in the offseason, a veil of uncertainty would float over the 2014 season. You may remember that the last time the Panthers didn't extend a coach's contract when it got close to expiring, they let time run out on head coach John Fox -- who posted a 2-14 record in his terrible lame-duck year of 2010.
Rivera doesn't deserve that uncertainty. What he deserves is a new deal.
The coach did a tremendous job in 2013, getting the Panthers to 12 wins, an NFC South division championship and their first playoff spot since 2008 after a 1-3 start. The home playoff loss to San Francisco should not overshadow those accomplishments.
Rivera is a popular coach. Among players, staff, fans or media, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who has had personal contact with Rivera and doesn't like him. But I'm not writing this because he's a good guy. I'm writing it because he's a very good coach, and one who has steadily gotten better since his rookie year as a head coach in 2011.
Rivera's teams have improved from 6-10 to 7-9 to 12-5 this past season. He has morphed from a by-the-book conservative coach to "Riverboat Ron" -- a coach who gambles when necessary and isn't nearly as predictable as he used to be.
Rivera also makes no secret of the fact that he is still learning to be a great head coach. That is a plateau he has not reached yet, but one day I believe he could.
Doing things like taking players to dinner and asking them their honest opinions about everything that goes on with the team is more evidence of that. Rivera isn't a "my-way-or-the-highway" type guy, and his players appreciate that. It is part of the reason they have bought so completely into his philosophy.
Rivera plans to start his series of candid dinners beginning Wednesday with offensive tackle Jordan Gross and several of his teammates, as he tries to get impressions of what went right and wrong in 2013.
How much money should he make with this extension? I don't pretend to know, but he should get a substantial raise -- enough to put him in the top half of head coach pay in the league.
A coach with obvious job security is more attractive to the best free agents, who want to know that the team they are about to sign with isn't about to pull the plug and install an entirely new system one year later.
Panther general manager Dave Gettleman praised Rivera in an end-of-season news conference Tuesday. "I have ultimate faith in Ron," Gettleman said.
But the general manager also would not discuss Rivera's contractual status Tuesday nor entertain questions about whether the team would extend the head coach's contract.
This is a no-brainer, though. It is much less complicated than, say, the Greg Hardy contract situation.
Rivera's pay won't count against the salary cap. He's the captain of a ship that is finally pointed away from the icebergs and toward the islands. It's time to give the man a contract extension.
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