CHARLOTTE – Six times during his end-of-season press conference Tuesday, head coach Ron Rivera referenced recent talks he's had with general manager Dave Gettleman.
When Gettleman was hired two years ago, he and Rivera hadn't even exchanged six words, but now they're in this thing together.
"The day after I got this job we had our blind date. We did not know each other," Gettleman said. "Ron has done an incredible job."
Gettleman got his first general manager job at the conclusion of Rivera's second season as a head coach. Rivera, coming off a 7-9 season, had to prove his worth to a new boss who might want to bring in his own staff. Right after Gettleman was hired, the pair went out for a meal to begin the process of getting to know each other and figuring out if they'd be a match.
Two NFC South titles and a Wild Card win later, they're on the same page as they prepare for a pivotal offseason of work.
"Given the roller coaster season we had, I'm just really proud of the accomplishments and where we've finished," Gettleman said. "Ron Rivera, his staff and the players just did a great job of keeping on. They believed and kept working, and the proof is in the pudding.
"We talk all the time and we are honest with each other - there's a crazy concept. If I'm not happy with something he is doing then I tell him, and if I'm not doing something he likes then he tells me. We look at it and we discuss it, but it doesn't happen all that often quite frankly. But we talk all the time, and there are no agendas or secrets."
Gettleman was asked during his press conference if he and Rivera had discussed making any changes to the coaching staff.
"That is a Ron question," he said. "I can make suggestions, but he is going to make the ultimate decision."
Rivera said he's in the process of evaluating the coaching staff as well as the players, but he made his initial feelings clear when asked specifically about the special teams coaches.
"My satisfaction level is going to be based on what we did…those last six games," Rivera said. "There were four out of five games that we gave up 30-plus points a game in a row. But, am I ready to scrap the defensive coaches? No. We gave up nine sacks in a game. Am I ready to do something with the offensive coaches? No.
"Those first 12 games, maybe somebody should toss me out on my ear because we were 3-8-1. But we stuck to the plan, we worked hard and we found the right combination of players."
SPECIAL TEAMS SHIFT?: Both Gettleman and Rivera felt a slew of injuries to versatile players like linebacker Chase Blackburn and fullbacks Mike Tolbert and Richie Brockel weakened the special teams units. Carolina finished last in opponent's punt return average and next to last in opponent's kick return average, while ranking 18th and 24th in punt and kickoff return average.
"It's not easy," Gettleman said, "and maybe we're going to have a little philosophical shift."
When he worked in New York with Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, Gettleman said Coughlin didn't believe in having players on the roster who only contributed on special teams.
"That was Tom's philosophy, and every coach does it differently," Gettleman said.
Will the Panthers do things differently? Will they dedicate roster spots to special teams "aces" to improve those units?
"Ron and I, that's the conversation we've been having," Gettleman said. "It's well documented there are guys that played 10-12 years in the league that were great (special teams) guys that were not line of scrimmage players. That was their role."
Added Rivera: "I've got to be willing and the coaches have to understand that's the decision we're going to make. These are (special teams) aces. Their primary function is to be on special teams and be ready to play. Those are things we're looking at, we're evaluating.
"That's something that we have to look at."
OFFENSIVE SHIFT ALREADY UNDER WAY: While the defense finished the season strong by getting back to controlling the point of attack much like it did in 2013, the offense used a different approach to find its footing.
"Some of the things that (offensive coordinator) Mike (Shula) and the offensive staff decided to do in terms of the no-huddle stuff once everybody was back (from injury) really helped us," Rivera said. "It seemed to be something that really sparked us. Our running game came to life, and our quarterback had more opportunities."
Rivera said it was difficult for the offense to go to a no-huddle early in the season when Cam Newton was sidelined and injuries rocked the offensive line and running back corps. But as players healed up and the offensive line was finally able to settle on a starting five, Carolina used the no-huddle more, and things began to click.
"We did some things really well on the offensive side that I liked," Rivera said. "Some of the stuff we did the last six weeks is indicative of what we can become."
HILL SIGNED: The Panthers signed wide receiver Stephen Hill to a future contract Wednesday. The former second-round draft choice spent the entire season on the Carolina practice squad after being waived by the New York Jets prior to the start of the regular season.
All 10 practice squad members have now been signed to future contracts.
Senior writer Byran Strickland and staff writer Max Henson contributed to this report.