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Ron Rivera a rock in a rocky situation


CHARLOTTE – As is the nature of the NFL, so much has changed around Bank of America Stadium since the John Fox era ended in 2010.

The stadium itself has undergone rounds of renovations, much like the team itself. The current interim general manager was the GM in 2010 but was out of the picture for nearly five years before returning last summer. The only owner the team has ever known has begun the process of selling the team.

Arguably foremost among the few constants?

Ron Rivera.

"He's one of the greatest assets that we have as an organization," tight end Greg Olsen said. "To see them recognize that and give him what he so rightly deserved is a good sign."

Olsen was referring to the two-year contract extension that Rivera received on the eve of his team's NFC Wild Card game, a deal that runs through the 2020 season.

At a time when stability is hard to come by, that's a good thing.

"Having my contract extended gives a little bit of security," Rivera said. "I really like our football team. I love the players we have. We've got a solid coaching staff and great support with the people around us. It does bring a little stability, a little continuity.

"I think going forward it puts us in a good position."

Rivera has played a vital role in putting the team in a good position. He arrived as a first-time head coach months before the Panthers made Cam Newton the first No. 1 overall draft pick in franchise history. The next year – Marty Hurney's last as general manager before his recent return – the Panthers used the No. 9 pick on linebacker Luke Kuechly.

In between making those draft choices, Carolina traded for Olsen.

"It all starts with Ron," Olsen said. "It all started with him coming in in 2011 with a lot of us and putting this thing together and building it to where it's gotten."

The Panthers had forged more than their share of memorable moments before Rivera's arrival. The franchise defied the odds by reaching the NFC Championship in its second year of competition and reached the Super Bowl before the close of its first decade.

The Panthers, however, didn't make the playoffs a single time between those blessed events.

Rivera and his team achieved the relevance he hoped for in his third season, and he has helped keep Carolina relative since. No team since the formation of the NFC South had won the division in back-to-back seasons before Rivera and the Panthers did so in 2013 and 2014. And again in 2015.

Before Rivera, the Panthers had never qualified for the playoffs more than two times in any five-season window. They've made it four of the last five seasons.

"He's one of our core pieces," tight end Ed Dickson said. "He's always had a goal in mind."

That goal has been, and remains, to climb to the top of the NFL mountain and climb the podium to accept the Lombardi Trophy.

"I still think this is a team that's in its window to compete at the highest level and win this thing," Olsen said. "We've still got a lot of work we've got to do to improve as a team, but Ron has done a great job."

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