A geography teacher would love Carolina head coach Ron Rivera’s new coaching staff, and if Rivera is right, Panthers fans will love it as well.
The coaches come from all different directions – nine NFL teams and two colleges – with varying backgrounds. Like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle, when fit together, they show a picture of what Rivera would like the Panthers to become.
There is a former head coach – Mike Shula – and three coaches who have served as coordinators in the pros. The staff includes four former NFL players and four coaches who are making their NFL debuts.
Take a look at the offensive line, where veteran coach John Matsko - who worked with the “Greatest Show on Turf” - is assisted by relative coaching newcomer Ray Brown, who played 20 years in the NFL.
“I knew it was time to quit when I told a young teammate that I knew a player with the same name when I came into the league, and he said it was his father,” Brown said.
The dynamic is similar at wide receiver, where longtime coach Fred Graves will be assisted by Ricky Proehl, who Panthers fans would recognize sooner in a jersey than on the sidelines. Like Brown, Proehl complemented his natural ability with an exemplary work ethic to parlay a third round draft position into a 17-year playing career.
A balance of experience and youthful enthusiasm is present on the defensive side of the ball as well, where former defensive coordinator Ron Meeks is handling the Carolina secondary while NFL newcomer Warren Belin is working with the linebackers. In between, there’s defensive line coach Eric Washington, who started his NFL coaching career with the Chicago Bears three years ago.
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott will have the charge of bringing those units together. McDermott’s experience belies his age: The 36-year-old worked under the late legendary Eagles coordinator Jim Johnson and served two years as Philadelphia’s coordinator himself.
Two of the coaches – Matsko and Meeks – have been on Super Bowl winning staffs, while four – Rivera, Proehl, Brown and running backs coach John Settle – have played on championship teams. Rivera has reached the playoffs 16 times in 23 years of NFL coaching. Obviously, this staff knows what it takes to get where they want the Panthers to go.
Rivera was methodical and meticulous as he put the staff together. On offense, each coach has experience in some variation of the Norv Turner/Mike Martz philosophy, which has kept defenses on their heels for the better part of two decades. Defensively, the bulk of experience comes from the Jim Johnson tree.
The word that keeps coming around when the Panthers’ new head coach talks about his philosophy for each side of the ball is “aggressive.”
In looking at the makeup of his staff, the same word would apply to his approach in seeking out and finding the best fits possible.