Ron Rivera spoke with the media via conference call and discussed his respect for Odell Beckham Jr, Eli Manning and how Tom Coughlin has served as a mentor for his coaching career.
Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera
Conference Call, December 16, 2015
Q: Can you talk about these last couple of years? It was not too long ago when you were on the hot seat, and now from the outside looking in, it looks like guys are buying into the program more, coming together more. Can you just talk about the transformation that you’ve seen?
A: Well, probably the biggest thing more than anything else is just having the time. It was my second season, things were up and down, we get to my third year and we started to put it together. It was just being able to get to my third season and as we started going, you could see it come together nicely. I think a big part of it now, as I look at what we have in the locker room, is a very solid group in our locker room, and good solid veteran leadership. My core leadership guys are guys that have been with me from the beginning, they’ve been though the ups and the downs, and the tough times, the good times, and I think that’s all played into who we’ve become now.
Q: What do you make of the Giants?
A: I think they’re a team that’s still finding their footing in some respect. A team that’s had some unfortunate losses, but then you watch them on Monday night and you see the explosiveness of what they have the ability to do. On offense, you see there is some talent, there really is, and I have a lot of respect for Eli [Manning]. I think he’s a tremendous football player. He’s one of those guys that when he gets hot, he’s on. I think Odell Beckham, obviously, is one of the elites in this league right now and there are a bunch of other guys around them that are playmakers. I think the tight end position has some good guys that know how to make plays. The other receivers, you know Rueben Randle is a solid guy. I like their running game, and Rashad Jennings is a good ball carrier. They’ve got some ability, so I think it’s one of these teams that you if you go to sleep on them, they have an ability to attack you. Defensively, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Steve Spagnuolo, coached with him for five seasons, and I think he’s one of the very smart, bright guys in this league. He’s had a bunch of unfortunate injuries he’s had to deal with. Getting JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul] back now, and as JPP works back into football shape, you see the explosiveness, his ability to interrupt the play, so again I just think as a football team, just finding their footing.
Q: What’s been the biggest change you’ve seen in Cam Newton’s development?
A: Well, obviously, just time. Again, he’s in his fifth season now. A lot of people don’t realize he played only one year of major college football as a starter, and I think he’s gone through a developmental process, and I think he’s now where we hoped he’d be. I think the thing that’s really happened is not only has he developed, but I think our offense has kind of gone through our X’s and O’s, our teams have kind of gone through a little bit of a metamorphosis to the point that we try to fit it to his abilities, to what his skillset is. I think he’s really gotten that. I mean, he’s done a great job, he’s made a lot of good decisions, his base fundamentals have improved tremendously, and he’s just become the complete football player that we had hoped for and envisioned.
Q: To you, is he the MVP of the league?
A: I’m biased, so I most certainly think so. Like I said, I’m biased. He’s done everything that I would hope a quarterback would do and he’s doing a lot of good things. There’s a lot more for him to accomplish still and for us as a football team. We’re only into the 15th week of the season, so we’ve still got things that we’ve got to do and things we have to improve on.
Q: Rick Laughland | TheGiantsBeat.com
What do you see when you watch Odell Beckham Jr. on tape? Have you faced a receiver of that caliber so far this year?
A: Well, Julio Jones is right up there, but watching what he’s done in his first two season is tremendous. He really has an opportunity, I think, to be one of those guys you’ll talk about. He and Jerry Rice. I’ve had the great fortune of watching Jerry Rice, and, man, I see a lot of flashes. I played against Jerry as well, and I see a lot of flashes in Odell’s game, and I just think he’s a tremendous football player.
Q: Can you talk about Thomas Davis and just the journey he’s been on? He’s playing at such a high level given all that he’s been through and just what he’s brought to that locker room.
A: The best word to describe Thomas, in my opinion, is resilient. His story starts where he came from, growing up in the poverty that he grew up in, coming from where he came from, but yet always working hard, working hard, getting his education, graduating from the University of Georgia, to being drafted in the first round, playing good football, and then going through the three ACL’s, and I think anytime a player goes through something like that, for the most part, it’s probably the end, but for Thomas, it was really the beginning. He’s playing at a very high level, he’s in a system that fits him very well, that plays his skillset. He is surrounded by a lot of other good players, most notably Luke Kuechly, who lines up next to him. He really is one of those guys, and then he transcends things in our locker room. Here’s a guy who’s not just a good football player but a good person, and I think that’s an even bigger compliment to who Thomas is.
Q: How do he and Luke complement each other out there on the field?
A: They complement each other very well. They both, first, are tremendous athletic football players, very smart football players, and good people. They work well together, they have a great understanding of what we’re doing, and one of those things that you hope for when you play is you have guys that really can just communicate without having to say anything. Just a nod, a turn of the head, or thumbs up or something, and they know exactly what needs to be done. They both run well, they both have the ability to cover, they’re both good blitzers and good tacklers. If you run from one, the other one is there to make the play, so I feel really good about who these guys have become in terms of a one-two tandem, but we’ve also got another good group of linebackers, Shaq [Thompson] and AJ [Klein]. I mean, those are two other young guys who have really come a long way. I think we have a good room with the linebackers, which is coached by Al Holcomb, who was with the Giants a few years back.
Q: You just had such high praise for Odell Beckham? How comfortable and happy are you that you have a guy in Josh Norman who can deal with him one on one?
A: Well, I’m comfortable with it, but we’ll see. You play the game and there’s a reason you play it. Odell is a tremendous football player. I think Josh is a tremendous football player, and I think it’s going to be a marquee matchup, I really do. I think both guys are going to bring a lot to the table, so we’ll see how it goes. This is one of those matchups that you hope to see, and I think it’s going to be a good one for this game.
Q: Is Josh the best cover corner in the league from what you’ve seen?
A: I think he’s done a great job. He’s playing very well and he’s playing at a very high level. I think he can be ranked right up there with that group of guys.
Q: Odell plays a lot from the slot. Is that something that you take into consideration with Josh or do you stick with what you’ve been doing? I know in the past you haven’t moved him inside very often.
A: Well, we do use him to shadow Odell, and so some of the things will dictate whether or not we’re shadowing or not, whether or not we’re lining up on him, so opposite. We’ll see how it goes and again we have to play the game. That, to me, is probably the most important thing.
Q: As everyone knows, the leaders in the NFC East right now all have losing records and I’m curious, last year when you made the playoffs with a sub .500 record, did you ever think then or do you look back and think now that you had anything to apologize for?
A: You’ve got nothing to apologize for. This is about winning your division. There’s a reason you have divisions so you continue to keep the excitement for the fans, and because you’re in that division, it doesn’t mean that every year is going to be a down year. This just happened to be a down year for the NFC East, but a team gets hot and gets on a roll like we did last year, you can make some noise in the playoffs, which we did. I was on an 8-8 team that went into the playoffs and nobody gave us a chance and we ended up winning in the first round. As far as I’m concerned, this is a part of the game, this is the way that the game is, people want to talk about, well, you have to change it. No. Why? To satisfy other people? This is the way it is, and it needs to stay this way. Hey, if the Giants make it, good for them, because remember a couple years ago, they were 9-7, they weren’t one of the best six records, but yet they won the Super Bowl. So, again, there’s no reason to apologize. They got in because they got hot, they won their division, gave themselves a chance, and next thing you know, they win the Super Bowl. Tom Coughlin, the New York Giants, they’ve got nothing to apologize for if they put themselves in the playoffs, and that’s how I felt last year. I’m passionate about it because I’ve been in this league almost 30 years, and every time I turn around, somebody wants to change something. This league has been going pretty well and things have been pretty good, and now all of a sudden, people think it’s not good enough. The league is fine. We just have to make sure we take care of the people that are in the league, make sure that we do things the right way, and we behave ourselves. This is something that obviously I’m passionate about, and the NFC East, and the AFC South, hey, that’s just football. It’s the cycle. A year from now, somebody else might be down that was a 12-4 team that got into the playoffs, and they may go 8-8 and win the division, but guess what? That’s the fortunes of being in a division. That’s just the way it is.
Q: On behalf of everybody in this room, we thank you, but I’m wondering if you’re equally as passionate if I’d ask you about Tom Coughlin’s future and a guy who once again here in New York is on the hot seat?
A: You know, it is amazing because coach has had such a tremendous career, he’s done so many great things and, again, this is the fortunes of the game. He’s got a young football team, he’s had to endure a lot of injuries, and a lot of the things that the Giants are going through mirrored us last year. It’s the same thing with the Colts. What the Colts are going through mirrored us last year with the injuries, with the quarterback injuries. I think people have to really take a step back and take a deep breath. This is a cycle, it goes up and down. Shoot, about every three or four years, Coach Coughlin wins a Super Bowl. Well, that’s pretty good. I think he’s a tremendous coach; he’s been someone who’s actually taken my call and answered some questions for me a few years ago. He’s been tremendous. I read his book. I mean, I just think everybody just needs to take a breath and see how things play out, let things fall into place. The hot seat thing kind of bothers me because it’s unfair because some people don’t look at the whole picture, or look at everything that coaches go through. If I had gotten let go last year in the middle of the year because I was on the hot seat, we may have never gotten where we are today. I just think sometimes people have to take a deep breath, think about the big picture, and then make decisions.
Q: Is that when you called him, when you were on the hot seat? Was that sort of what you were inquiring about?
A: No. I called him a few years back and talked to him about sustaining success. We had just come off, I think, a 12-4 year and he was gracious enough to visit with me. I mean, coach is a tremendous person. He listens and he answers questions, he was very upfront, and I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for who Coach Coughlin is.
Q: You guys are 13-0 and a lot of people say you will have a decision to make at some point about whether you’re going to go for 16-0 or not. Are you at that point yet?
A: No. We’re at the point where we’re going to play the 14th game this year, and I’ll treat that game the way that it needs to be treated. We need to win. All we’ve done right now is clinch the division, and clinch the bye, and guaranteed one game in the divisional round. We’ll see what happens this week and then we’ll talk about Week 15 or game 15. I think the thing that everybody has to look at is you have to make decisions for what’s best for your football team. I made some decisions last week. I know one of my players tweeted about not getting opportunities, he wanted to play in the 4th quarter, but I thought he would be better served to not play in the fourth quarter. He was coming off a hamstring injury, he had only played three regular season games for us at that point, and I really felt, ‘You know what, he needs to be sat down.’ I’ll make those decisions that I feel are best for the organization, best for our football team as we go forward.
Q: How has your experience as a player on a team that went deep into the season undefeated, how has that affected the way you’re coaching this team?
A: I do draw from what Coach [Mike] Ditka used to tell us and some of the things that we went through when I was playing. It is an opportunity for me to fall back on things from personal experience, and I was able to share that with our players.
Q: What’s an example?
A: Pretty much learning to deal with success. One of the things that coach talked about early on was managing success and being prepared for you guys, the media. There’s going to be questions for guys and there has been, and I told the guys, don’t be surprised about the questions that you get, the scrutiny is going to be more. As Coach Ditka used to always tell us, ‘They like to put you on a pedestal, but remember, that pedestal gets high, so it’s a long way to fall.’ So just things like that. Trying to remind these guys to maintain their focus, to handle our success, and just be prepared.
Q: You obviously have respect for Tom Coughlin. Is there anything uneasy about having to come here and them playing for their playoff lives?
A: Very much so. To come to New York and play this team with an Eli Manning as the quarterback and Odell Beckham as an explosive playmaker, and an aggressive defensive coordinator, yeah, I’m concerned because, again, this is the type of team that should concern you. They’re hungry, they have a taste of victory coming off a Monday night win, and they won it in the fashion that you would expect them to with their big playmakers making plays and the defense coming through when they needed to.