Maybe when Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman was looking for a birthday gift for coach Ron Rivera, a nice thesaurus would have been a good choice.
Because as Rivera has often referred to the Panthers “evolving” on offense next season, Gettleman admitted he’s uncomfortable with the word choice. While they certainly need to improve, they made no changes to the offensive coaching staff and most of the key personnel is returning intact.
“I know our coaches are bright men and they can evolve, . . . I hate that word,” Gettleman said. “They can change. Stick a needle in my eye, I’m different than the first time you guys saw me up here. The bottom line is the responsibility of the coaches is they have to evaluate the skills and talents of our players, and from there they have to put them in positions to succeed.
“You’ve got access to the entire league, and this is a steal league. You steal from me, I’m stealing from you. So they’re very capable of making adjustments.”
Asked if there was a word he’d have preferred to “evolve,” Gettleman insisted improvements had to be made.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Listen, here’s what I’m going to tell you: If you maintain the status quo, you ain’t getting better. You can’t maintain the status quo, so whatever word you want to use to improve and move off of the status quo, have at it.”
Of course, that’s precisely what Rivera chose when it comes to his coaching staff. Perhaps influenced by losing defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to the Bills, Rivera retained embattled offensive coordinator Mike Shula (and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey). The Panthers head coach is big on loyalty, promoting Shula in 2013 from quarterbacks coach to a position he’s never really succeeded in, and sticking with him after a year of regression by quarterback Cam Newton which many figured would spark change.
Whether Shula can “evolve” the Panthers offense back to its 2015 production will have a lot to do with whether the team can bounce back next season, but after Rivera naturally selected Shula to come back for another year, it also puts more pressure on the head coach to be right about him.