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Rivera still waiting on future after strong finish

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - While several coaches around the NFL found themselves without a job Monday, the Carolina Panthers' Ron Rivera escaped unscathed - at least for now.

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Rivera's future remains twisting pending the outcome of a postseason meeting with owner Jerry Richardson. It's unclear when that meeting will come.

Richardson remained mum on the second -year coach's status one day after the Panthers won their fourth straight game to finish 7-9, a one-game improvement over 2011. He declined comment on Rivera's job security through the public relations staff.

Rivera said Monday at a news conference he hasn't spoken to Richardson about his future since Sunday's 44-38 victory at New Orleans, but indicated that the meeting is upcoming.

``What I was told is Mr. Richardson and I will sit down and discuss things and we'll go from there,'' Rivera said. ``I can't tell you anything more than that. I do look forward to the opportunity to meet with him and discuss this.''

Rivera has two years left on his contract.

Richardson might hire a general manager to get his input before deciding Rivera's fate.

Richardson can now begin interviewing potential GM candidates from teams whose seasons are complete.

He hired former New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi to serve as a consultant for the GM search. Potential candidates include Giants college scouting director Marc Ross, Giants senior pro personnel analyst Dave Gettleman, and Panthers interim GM Brandon Beane.

Longtime Panthers GM Marty Hurney was fired after the team's 1-5 start and the owner put Rivera on notice at that point. Richardson told Rivera at the time the Panthers needed to be ``trending upward'' the rest of the season.

The Panthers went 6-4 the rest of the way.

They finished strong, winning five of their last six games, including a convincing 30-20 victory over the NFC's top seeded Atlanta Falcons, despite the fact they had five starters and 14 players overall on injured reserve.

``I like where we are and I like the things that we have done,'' Rivera said. ``I believe we are better now than when I first got here. And it's a job that I would like to have.''

Rivera spent Monday in exit interviews with his players and his staff.

Players said Rivera didn't discuss his future during their brief 10-minute meeting at Bank of America Stadium on Monday morning.

``He didn't mention it,'' offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner said. ``He just said thanks for the hard work this season and finishing the season on a strong note. That's kind of where it was left.''

Several players said they want Rivera to return.

``I think the way we finished the year shows how we feel about coach Rivera and the coaching staff,'' Hangartner said. ``We've all seen teams start 2-8 and finish 2-14 or 3-13. I think the way the guys prepared and finished on the note we did shows something.''

The Panthers haven't had a winning record since 2008 and haven't won a playoff game since 2005.

Does Richardson has the patience to stick with Rivera, 13-19 in two seasons, or does he cut ties with a coach who is 2-13 in games decided by seven points or less?

Despite failing to reach the postseason, there were several bright spots for the Panthers. The offense finished in high gear after struggling in the early part of the season, while the defense was strong throughout despite losing four starters.

The Panthers saw the continued development of second-year quarterback Cam Newton, particularly in the final six games when he completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,474 yards with 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Newton also ran for 347 yards and four scores during that span.

Overall, Newton's numbers were on par with his rookie year, throwing for 3,869 yards passing with 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He ran for 741 yards and eight touchdowns, down from his NFL-record of 14 TDs last season when he was voted Offensive Rookie of the Year.

``The biggest thing is he took a lot of the pressure off himself and we tried to help him take that pressure off,'' Rivera said. ``I think he got to the point where he realized he didn't have to make every play. And upon that realization you just saw that development as far as understanding things schematically, understanding the opponent he was to attack, and working on his base fundamentals. His footwork improved and his pocket presence improved.''

There were other standouts.

Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly became the first rookie to lead the NFL in tackles (164) since San Francisco's Patrick Willis in 2007. Kuechly moved to middle linebacker five games into the season and the Panthers went from 24th in the league in overall defense to 10th.

Ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy became the first Panthers tandem to get double digits in sacks in a decade. Receiver Steve Smith finished with his seventh 1,000-yard season. DeAngelo Williams ran for a franchise-record 210 yards in the season finale.

Rivera said it's been tough not knowing his future, but added, ``it is part of the process we're going through and we'll see how this thing unfolds.''

---

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