Panthers announce Rivera will be back next season

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Ron Rivera will return as coach of the Carolina Panthers next season following his team’s strong finish.

Panthers spokesman Charlie Dayton said Rivera met with owner Jerry Richardson Saturday morning and was informed that he will return for a third season. Rivera has two years on his current contract.

“He’s going about normal preparations for next season,” Dayton said.

Rivera’s status with the Panthers had been up in the air pending a meeting with Richardson on Saturday morning.

Richardson fired longtime GM Marty Hurney after a 1-5 start and informed Rivera at the time Panthers needed to be “trending upward” the rest of the season.

The Panthers went 6-4 from that point out, including four straight wins to close the season.

It’s unclear at this point if Rivera, who went 13-19 in two seasons with Carolina, will be forced to make any changes to his staff. The Panthers finished this season 7-9 this season, good for second place in the NFC South.

Rivera did not return phone messages Saturday.

Dayton said neither Rivera nor Richardson would be commenting on the decision. Other members of the organization were asked not to comment on the decision either, per Richardson’s request.

However, players were quick to applaud the decision.

“I’m very happy he’s back,” tight end Greg Olsen told The Associated Press. “Obviously the season wasn’t what we were looking for, but I think the way we finished showed that we’re heading in the right direction.

“The guys have a lot of faith in coach Rivera and guys didn’t want to let him down. I think the way we finished, winning four straight, shows a lot about the direction we’re headed and our faith in him as our coach moving forward. I’m glad that things worked out.”

Rivera won a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears in 1985 as a linebacker and broke into the coaching ranks shortly after his nine-year NFL career ended, first serving as an understudy to Dave Wannstedt in Chicago.

He quickly climbed the coaching ladder and was defensive coordinator in Chicago and San Diego before landing his first head coaching position in Carolina in 2011. That came after he was turned down for eight other head coaching jobs.

Offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner was also thrilled with the news.

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