Interim head coach Perry Fewell takes the reins from Ron Rivera


CHARLOTTE – Ron Rivera could have slammed the door shut after learning the news. He could have walked out at that very moment. Other fired football coaches sure have.

Instead, Rivera helped his friend prepare for his four-game audition as interim head coach of the Carolina Panthers.

Now, it's Perry Fewell's time.

"Emotions are at a premium when that occurs," Fewell said at the podium after Wednesday's practice. "It's easy for you to slam the door, pack up your things and walk out, or just walk out, but he took care of Panther business, which you know he would do. He's a first-class guy. Again, addressed the staff, came and addressed me to make sure that, 'Hey, everything that we have set up, you can change, but this is where our travel schedules are, this is where this is, this is where this is.' He laid it all out."

Fewell will serve as the interim head coach for the Panthers final four games of the year after spending the first 13 weeks of the season as the defensive backs coach. Instead of just focusing in on backpedaling and coverages, Fewell suddenly had a bit more on his plate.

"I had fun today," Fewell said. "Instead of talking to just the DBs, I got a chance to talk to the offensive line, got a chance to talk to the kickers, the punters, so I had fun today in that sense that I was able to communicate and hopefully impact more than just the area that I had been coaching.

"I thought it just came very natural the things that I saw that we needed to work on, and I spoke about those things not only to the players, but the coaches."

Going from position coach to the head man is no easy task, especially midseason, but it's a transition Fewell has made once before during his time with the Bills in 2009, and he went 3-4 with Buffalo. Fewell credited that prior experience with preventing him from being overwhelmed by the unexpected change on Tuesday.

"It helps that I've done this before," Fewell said. "I have this experience, so I know where to go, what to do and how to do it."

Despite all of the emotions and transitions hanging over this week, that hasn't distracted Fewell from the task at hand: beating the Falcons. After all, the next four weeks are essentially an extended job interview for Fewell.

"It gives me an opportunity to prove it, and it gives our players an opportunity to prove it," Fewell said. "That's what we're going to do. We're going to go out and prove that we can win a football game this Sunday, and then we will move to the next objective. The NFL is about opportunity. You don't want to get the opportunity this way, but I am granted that opportunity and I've got to make the most of that while I have this chance."

So, what changes can you expect to see when the Panthers take the field for the first time under Fewell on Sunday? Don't expect anything drastically different – Kyle Allen will still be under center, the defense will still look the same and most other things will, too.

"We're so far into who we are and our identity at this point and time, schematically we are who we are," Fewell said. "You might see some new wrinkles here and there, but we are who we are."

Where some changes are being made, though, is on the practice field. After an unexpected coaching change just a day earlier, it would be understandable if Wednesday's practice was a little strange. Perhaps a little off. But Fewell said that wasn't the case, calling the day "spirited." Part of that can be attributed to Fewell's decision to raise the level of competition in practice.

"We changed it up just a little bit," Fewell said. "We had a little competition between the offense and the defense for third down for push-ups. We wanted to improve in that area, we did some things to get better as a football team."

Fewell said that instead of having the first team offense take every rep against a scout team look, they squared off against the starters on defense and vice versa.

It was the start of a "prove it" period for Fewell and the Panthers with four games left.

"I told the team that we're in a prove it business. We play at the highest level of competition and we're evaluated every single day, and we're really evaluated on Sundays," Fewell said. "We can't tuck our tails, we can't hide our faces, we've got to go out and be men and stand up and we've got to go out and win a football game.

"That's focus enough. You're fighting for your job."

View photos from Wednesday's practice as the Panthers prepare to travel to Atlanta in Week 14.