CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers have entrusted Ron Rivera with turning around the NFL’s worst team, making the San Diego defensive coordinator the second Latino head coach in NFL history.
Rivera was introduced on Tuesday. He replaces John Fox, who was let go earlier this month after Carolina went 2-14 in his ninth season.
It’s the first head coaching job for the 49-year-old Rivera, who is of Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage. He joins ex-Raiders and Seahawks boss Tom Flores as the only Latino head coaches.
Rivera ran the Chargers’ defense since midway through the 2008 season, with San Diego ranking tops in the NFL in total defense and pass defense this season. The ex-Bears linebacker also was defensive coordinator in Chicago from 2004-06.
“It gives me comfort that he was a former player,” said owner Jerry Richardson, a former Baltimore Colts receiver. “He brings an approach and resume that we believe lends itself to success for our football team and organization.”
Rivera was one of four defensive coordinators to be interviewed by Panthers general manager Marty Hurney and team president Danny Morrison last week. The others — Perry Fewell of the New York Giants, San Francisco’s Greg Manusky and Rob Ryan of Cleveland — were not asked in for second interviews.
Rivera arrived in Charlotte Monday, with the team proceeding with meetings and interviews despite a crippling snow and ice storm that shut down much of the city the past two days.
ESPN reported Rivera received a four-year, $11.2 million deal to become the fourth head coach in franchise’s 16-year history. Fox was 78-74 with a Super Bowl appearance and two other playoff berths, but the team never had consecutive winning seasons and last made the postseason in 2008.
“I want to thank Mr. Richardson for this opportunity,” Rivera said.
News of the impending hire spread quickly, with quarterback Jimmy Clausen congratulating Rivera on his Twitter account Tuesday.
“Look forward to meeting him and getting to work,” Clausen wrote.
How Rivera fills out his offensive staff to deal with Clausen and the NFL’s worst offense will be one of his first key moves. Richardson said last week that he wanted an upgrade after Carolina had 16 offensive touchdowns this season.
Rivera declined to comment on potential staff members.
Despite running a 3-4 defense in San Diego, Rivera said the Panthers will continue to use a 4-3 based on their personnel.