CHARLOTTE – A couple things stood out to Perry Fewell when he was presented with the opportunity to coach the Panthers’ secondary.
1. His desire to reunite with Ron Rivera
2. The chance to coach for his home team.
“I’m on Cloud Nine,” said Fewell, a native of nearby Cramerton, N.C., after the hire was announced Tuesday.
Fewell and Rivera got to know each other when they were on the Bears’ coaching staff in 2005. Rivera was the defensive coordinator and Fewell coached the defensive backs.
And Carolina defensive coordinator Eric Washington just so happened to be an intern on the Chicago staff at the time.
“I hoped I would have the chance to work with Ron again,” Fewell said. “He’s such a welcoming man. A good coach. We always have dinner together at the combine. The dialogue throughout the years was really good for us. You just like to work for a guy like that.
“Eric – I’ve watched his work as he’s risen through the ranks. I think I can help him and help the Panthers progress. It excites me to have the opportunity to work with those men again.”
Fewell spent time with Washington and the other defensive assistants when he was in Charlotte for an interview last week. Fewell walked away from that meeting excited about the prospect of joining the staff. His knowledge of the secondary combined with Washington’s expertise with the front is very enticing.
“We were just in the room talking football,” Fewell said. “We meshed well. There was a good exchange of ideas. It seemed like it would be a good marriage.”
It seemed like Fewell had a good thing going with the Jaguars until he was relieved of his duties at the end of the 2018 season.
Over his two years there, Jacksonville led the league with 182.2 passing yards allowed per game and a 76.4 passer rating allowed. The Jaguars' 32 interceptions since the start of the 2017 season tied for fifth.
But after advancing to the AFC championship two years ago, the Jaguars fell to 5-11 and changes were made.
“The NFL is ever-changing. Nothing surprises you in this league,” said Fewell, now coaching for his seventh NFL team. “When you don’t win the number of games you won the year before, there is always going to be change. I was surprised that I was one of the ones who did not return. But when one door closes, another one opens.
“This door that’s opened for me in Carolina is a ray of light for me. It recharged my battery.”
Fewell is thrilled to coach in his home state. The joy in his voice couldn’t be contained as he described what it means to him.
“Once the Panthers arrived in 1995, I thought that was the greatest thing,” said Fewell, who was coaching at the college level when the Panthers were born. “That’s my home, that’s my home team. It’s a dream come true, so to speak.
“Coaching for your home team – what better joy could you get? I’m just excited to get to work.”
Rivera said he’s particularly eager to see how Fewell can help cornerbacks James Bradberry and Donte Jackson take steps forward in 2019.
Bradberry, a second-round pick in 2016, has shown the ability to matchup with the NFC South’s No. 1 receivers. Jackson, a second-round pick in 2018, showed flashes of special playmaking ability while being thrown into the fire as a rookie starter.
“I’m really pleased with James Bradberry’s length,” Fewell said. “Watched him on tape, and I think he’s fundamentally sound. He’s got good coverage skills. We’ll look to tweak some things with what I can bring to the table.
“Donte Jackson has unlimited potential and talent. He did go through some of that rookie experience last year, but you can tell that all the tools are there. He’ll grow and get better.
“That’s a really good duo to work with. There is talent there. We can be good.”