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Rivera remains focused on winning


CHARLOTTE - Nothing about Ron Rivera's mission as Panthers' head coach changed Monday, but the circumstances surrounding his continued effort to turn the franchise into a consistent winner underwent a seismic shift.

Panthers Owner/Founder Jerry Richardson called Rivera into his office around 8:30 a.m. and surprised him with the news that longtime general manager Marty Hurney had been relieved of his duties.

"I know this is a very difficult time, but Mr. Richardson did what he had to do as the leader of this organization," Rivera said. "I'm a little saddened and disappointed, obviously. We're struggling through this situation right now, this set of circumstances.

"The bottom line is that we're not playing very good right now. We've had some opportunities to win some football games, and we haven't done that."

Winning remains Rivera's top priority, and in the short term, he'll make even more decisions that could affect the bottom line. When Rivera told the media Monday afternoon that veteran cornerback Chris Gamble would be placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, he made his first personnel decision without the guidance of Hurney, the Panthers' general manager for the last decade.

"Personnel will be a collaborative effort between myself, pro scouting and (director of football operations) Brandon Beane," Rivera explained. "With the guys that we have in our personnel department, we feel pretty comfortable and confident that this group of people will be able to get the decisions made.

"It will stop with me. If there's a decision that has to be made that involves this football team and players, it will stop with me. As always, for major decisions we will most certainly talk to Mr. Richardson and get his input."

The news was difficult for Rivera, just as the decision was for Richardson. Rivera formally informed the team at a 12:30 p.m. meeting.

"Coach Rivera knows that Marty gave him his first shot as a head guy, and he's spoken about that a lot prior to today," Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross said. "I think it really affected him, but this business is a performance business, and I think we all know in this locker room that if we don't do better and win more, there are going to be a lot of changes."

Rivera said he had "a great working relationship" with Hurney and he has "a tremendous amount of respect for who he is as a person. He's somebody who I'd like to be able to say became my friend.

"This is a tough thing, an unfortunate part of it. I talked with him this morning. We had a great conversation. In his fashion, he was more concerned about me. That's who he is as a person."

Reporters asked Rivera if he was now concerned about his job given Monday's move and the Panthers' 1-5 start in his second season.

"I always feel like I'm coaching for my job," Rivera said. "Same thing when I was a player. I was drafted in the second round in 1984, and for nine years I came into that facility wondering if I was going to get cut. This is no different.

"I come to work like I did as a player, and that's to do the best I can. If you look at it any other way, you're cheating yourself."

Expectations were high for the Panthers after they won four of their final six games in Rivera's first season, and failing to come close to meeting those has cost one of the franchise's top employees his job.

Aside from the added responsibilities, Rivera's job remains the same.

"There's always pressure. There was pressure to begin with. This changes nothing," Rivera said. "Our job is to win football games. What players have to understand in a situation like this when action is being taken, it doesn't mean the action has stopped. This is most certainly an evaluation process, and by no means is it over.

"I have not wavered in my confidence in these players. Somewhere along the line, we'll get a break, and once we do, we'll make it work. But right now, there is something missing. I'm not sure exactly whether it's a leadership issue, a coaching issue, a playing issue or a schematic issue, but something is out of whack. We've got to find it and get it in whack so that we can go forward."

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