Ron Rivera Works Quickly to Fill Out Staff

The Carolina Panthers' coaching staff for the 2011 season - providing there is a next season - is almost in place.

One week after hiring Ron Rivera as the next head coach, the Panthers have hired Rob Chudzinski as offensive coordinator, Sean McDermott as defensive coordinator and Brian Murphy as special teams coordinator.

John Matsko has also been hired as the offensive line coach.

Chudzinski, 42, was a three-year starter at the University of Miami and helped the Hurricanes win the national championship in 1987 and '89. He returned to coach in 1994 and spent 10 years at his alma mater. He jumped to the NFL in 2004, coaching the Cleveland Browns' tight ends. After one year he moved to San Diego, where he helped develop Antonio Gates into a top-flight tight end.

He was named the Browns' offensive coordinator in 2007, and that year they finished eighth overall in points scored and went 10-6. However, the Browns fell to 30th in points and 31st in yards in 2008, and the entire Browns' coaching staff was fired. Chudzinski took a step back, returning to San Diego the past two seasons to coach the Chargers' tight ends, but also held the title of assistant head coach.

He's known for having an outstanding young coaching mind.

McDermott, 36, spent five years (1999-2003) in Philadelphia coaching alongside Rivera.

It's expected that McDermott's authority will be limited here since Rivera will have a big say in what happens on defense.

McDermott's defense struggled in 2009 after he took over for the legendary Jim Johnson, although some attributed that drop-off to the result of losing All-Pro middle linebacker Stewart Bradley to a knee injury.

However, the Eagles struggled again this season.

Philadelphia's red-zone defense was the worst it has been since 1988 under McDermott, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 33 of the 43 red-zone opportunities, as well as field goals on nine of the other 10 attempts. The Eagles finished 12th in total defense but allowed 23.4 points per game, including 24 or more in 11 games. They also allowed a franchise-high 31 touchdown passes.

"When I get an opportunity to visit with the candidates, they will most certainly understand that I'm not turning anybody loose to do what you want," Rivera said during his introductory press conference last week. "I want to know what your philosophy is to make sure it meshes with mine and to make sure it meshes with the personnel we have as well.

"Defense is what I know, so that's where I'll be. Whoever we decide the coordinator is going to be, he's got to understand that's where I'm going to be. My goal is to run the defense and have an efficient defense, an effective defense and an attacking defense."

Murphy, 41, spent three seasons as an assistant with the Vikings' special teams before becoming special teams coordinator in 2009. The Vikings' special teams were No. 9 that season in the Dallas Morning News rankings after finishing No. 25 the previous year. He made an immediate impact after being promoted in Minnesota.

Not only were the Vikings' units among the NFL's best, two players were selected to the Pro Bowl in coverage man Heath Farwell and returner Percy Harvin, who set a Minnesota record with two kickoff touchdowns in his rookie season. Harvin added another kickoff touchdown return last year and punter Chris Kluwe's 38.9 net punting average was second best in Vikings history and ranked in the League's top ten.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES


OC Ron Meeks
Chuck Burton/AP
Ron Meeks, who spent the past two seasons as Carolina's defensive coordinator, has taken a demotion to work as the team's defensive backs coach next season.

Meeks oversaw a unit that ranked eighth in yards allowed in 2009 and 18th last season. Meeks previously was defensive coordinator of the Colts from 2002-08 and was secondary coach at Dallas, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Washington and St. Louis before going to Indianapolis.

Also, Sam Mills III will return next season in an expanded role, working as defensive quality control as well as helping with the defensive line.

"We are glad to have both Ron and Sam stay with the Panthers," said Ron Rivera. "They are good coaches and are familiar with the players and organization."

--According to a league source, there's at least a small chance Jim Skipper could return as running backs coach although he's been offered a spot on John Fox's staff in Denver.

Fox has already hired two assistant coaches from his old staff - offensive line coach Dave Magazu and wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert, while linebackers coach Richard Smith and special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers are expected to join him soon.

--Quarterback Matt Moore said in his recent blog that he's doing well recovering from surgery on a torn labrum.

"I'm actually doing really well," Moore wrote. "I'm nine weeks out of surgery, my mobility is good and I'm getting my strength back. The Panthers trainers are doing a great job of getting me back to where I need to be. When I initially suffered the injury, I knew something was wrong. The most pain came in the first four days after the surgery. That was tough, I had never had surgery before. After that it was just a lot of ice and I started to feel better. The past 5-6 weeks I've felt great."

Moore's contact with the Panthers is up and his future with the team remains as unclear as the CBA negotiations between the owners and players union.

"For next season everything is kind of unknown right now," Moore wrote. "My contract is up and I'm dealing with that. I have to just kind of wait until the players and owners figure out the collective bargaining agreement. So I'm sitting tight and waiting to see what goes on with the league.

"Obviously I would love to stay in Carolina. But nothing will be set in motion until some other things are sorted out. So I'm just hanging in there, getting my shoulder better and hoping we can work something out."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have worked with Rob and know that he is a very good offensive coach who possesses a strong knowledge on that side of the ball. I have seen him work with players and he has the communication skills and expertise to make a most positive contribution to our coaching staff as offensive coordinator." -- Ron Rivera on hiring Rob Chudzinski as his offensive coordinator.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Carolina Panthers missed out on the top offensive college prospect in Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, but at least this year's best defensive player will enter the NFL Draft.

Auburn defensive tackle and Lombardi Award winner Nick Fairley announced he's skipping his senior season at Auburn to enter the draft.

He will join Tigers quarterback Cam Newton in turning pro early.

With Luck no longer an option, Fairley is considered a strong candidate for the Panthers, who own the No. 1 overall pick. The Panthers are expected to get to know him better next month at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

The other likely options include Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green. Most draft experts believe it would be a stretch for the Panthers to take a quarterback at No. 1, including Newton, this year's Heisman Trophy winner.

A dominant 300-pound defensive tackle, Fairley would address one of Carolina's major weaknesses and would seem to be a perfect fit in new head coach Ron Rivera's 4-3 defensive scheme.

Fairley announced his decision at his old high school in Mobile, Ala., telling reporters he didn't make up his mind until that morning - four days after the national title game.


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