Ron Rivera takes over D playcalling, fires two assistants

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera announced Monday that he will take over defensive playcalling in a staff shakeup that includes firing defensive line coach Brady Hoke and assistant secondary coach Jeff Imamura.

The changes came less than 24 hours after the Panthers (6-6) lost their fourth straight game, a 24-17 setback at Tampa Bay, to fall deeper into the hole for an NFC wild-card playoff spot.

Rivera took over the playcalling for the defense on Sunday, but he did not fire first-year defensive coordinator Eric Washington, who now will oversee the defensive front seven.

Rivera expects Washington to handle the change in a "professional" manner.

"Eric is a professional,'' he said. "He's done this for a long time. His track record speaks for itself, especially dealing with the front seven, especially the front four.

"I have a bit of experience at playcalling and putting defenses together. It's an opportunity for me to work even closer with him to help him out as we go forward. Y'all got to remember your first time doing something. You weren't perfect and somebody had to help you. That's really what I'm here for.''

Washington is Carolina's third defensive coordinator in three years after Steve Wilks (Arizona) and Sean McDermott (Buffalo) got head-coaching positions. The defense ranked 14th in the NFL heading into Sunday's game.

Rivera said the turnover in coordinators the past three years "to a degree'' has caught up with the team.

"It's been trying, obviously, when you lose guys that have been in this system for a long time,'' he said. "As we move forward it's about learning and growing and getting back to where we've been in the past, especially as a defense.''

Sam Mills III will coach the defensive line and Rivera will work with Richard Rodgers in the secondary.

"In my judgment, I felt this was best for the team moving forward," Rivera said in a statement. "These are always difficult decisions, and I thank Brady and Jeff for their hard work. Ultimately, I'm charged with putting the team in the best position to succeed, and I felt these moves were necessary in order to do that."

Strong safety Mike Adams, the only Carolina defensive player who would address the changes during Monday's open locker room session, said Rivera has been involved in the playcalling all season.

As for why the defense has underperformed, he doesn't have a good answer.

"The tradition of the Panthers defense is when you put us on the field in the past and the game is on the line, you know we're going to win and close out -- and we haven't done that as much this year," Adams said.

Rivera was the defensive coordinator at San Diego before being named Carolina's head coach in 2011. He also was the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears from 2004 to '06.

The Panthers have struggled to create pressure on the quarterback this season, but with Rivera calling the defensive plays on Sunday they had four sacks and eight tackles for loss.

Rivera said after the game that he was "helping'' with the playcalling.

"Just a different set of eyes and another perspective,'' he said.

Hoke was in his first season as Carolina's defensive line coach. The former Michigan head coach (2011-14) was the interim head coach at Tennessee in 2017.

Before Sunday's game, CBS Sports cited sources saying new team owner David Tepper was mulling major changes if the team didn't turn its performance around.

Rivera refused to speculate.

"At the end of the day, unless Mr. Tepper says it, I'm not going to address it. OK?" Rivera said. "We can forget about asking me those questions, please."

When asked a few minutes later if he was concerned about his job security, Rivera's voice grew louder.

"I am not going to address that question," he said. "Do not ask that question again, please."

Rivera said Monday that the staff changes were a collaborative effort between himself, general manager Marty Hurney and Tepper.