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Monday, June 16, 2014

Story Lines Converge as Ron Rivera Interviews with Former Boss, Marty Hurney’s Radio Debut

Ron Rivera broke the proverbial champagne bottle over the bow of former Panther GM Marty Hurney’s radio debut of “Hurney & Gardner” on ESPN 730 today.  This was an interesting, but appropriate, opening to Hurney’s return to journalism, given he was the guy who hired Rivera as Panthers head coach.  The interview consisted of a friendly exchange between the two former colleagues on four basic topics: Panthers mini-camp, Rivera’s growth as a coach, the offense and defense, and the 2014 schedule.

I want to say that this was just the run-of-the mill interview between a head coach and a new local radio show.  It may have been standard for Ron Rivera, but it wasn’t run-of-mill.  There were many storylines going into this interview that appealed to me as a fan. 

Ron RiveraFirst, this was former Marty Hurney’s radio debut.  He has taken a real beating for his last years in Charlotte from fans and the media over poorly structured contracts and his open and friendly relationship with local medial.  I was excited to tune into the show because of the advertised benefit of having a front office guy give us a peek into that world.  Hurney reminded why he was loved by players and the media throughout the show.  He’s just genuinely a friendly guy, who is hard to dislike.  It was clear throughout Rivera’s interview that the two have a positive relationship still.  I don’t expect Hurney to be that polarizing as a radio talent going forward, but he will be a helpful resource for fans trying to better understand the management side of the game.

Second, the debut of an alternative local sports radio option with ESPN 730 is another interesting storyline for fans. WFNZ 610 The Fan has been the go to sports radio option for the Charlotte area.  I haven’t heard the full line-up yet, but I’m pretty sure “The Fan” is safe for the moment.  The geriatric crowd may jump over to 710 and I may jump over from 1-3 to hear Hurney’s take on the Panthers, but I don’t think there is a big threat to 610’s hold on the younger crowd.  One good plus is that you really feel like you are listening to AM radio.  I genuinely felt older by the end of the show! 

Third, Rivera was candid as usual.  I was dying get an update on the Panthers after a slow couple of news weeks.  Let’s face it, the media has been fighting to drum up daily storylines.  Whoa to us and the two slow weeks that is the NFL now!  For me, this interview didn’t disappoint.  Not because there was some juicy story that we hadn’t seen coming, but because Rivera was candid and genuine throughout.

Rivera opened up on one thing Panther Nation has been following closely over the last three years, his coaching style.  Hurney and Gardner didn’t mention Rivera’s new moniker, “Riverboat Ron,” but they did address his more liberal approach as a head coach.  Rivera didn’t shy away from the subject.  He discussed the need to be able to adjust while on the job, stating “something had to change or I would.”  For Rivera this was a big moment, one I think demonstrates a newly emergent self-confidence as a coach.  Rivera sounded comfortable and at peace in his decision to throw away “the book” and start to trust his “gut instinct.” 

Not only has this been an important storyline for me personally (I have been a Rivera guy for a while), but it has been Rivera’s unflinching and businesslike approach throughout some real troubled times that have made me such a fan.  This cool confidence seems to ingratiated him with players, earning the respect and trust of vets and admiration of the young guys.  Ron “Coolio” Rivera just doesn’t flinch, regardless of the adversity.

This composure continued to show throughout the interview when he addressed the uncertainty surrounding the offense. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting Rivera to break down and cry about the new bunch of unproven receivers and the questions surrounding the left tackle position.  Rivera expressed the confidence expected from any head coach that will have to field a team with them.  I don’t think Rivera’s composure is a façade, however.  If anyone can handle this uncertainty, it’s Rivera.  His composure translates into confidence, and that can be contagious.  Hopefully, it will continue to be!

Fourth, Rivera alluded to Cam’s increased leadership despite his missing on-field workouts because of injury.   I mentioned that Rivera was candid, and his description of Cam’s participation illustrated this point.  Rivera discussed Mike Shula’s effort to bring Cam into the coaching folds more, allowing the 4th year pro to lead meetings and run video footage.  Cam has been “phenomenal in meetings” Rivera concluded.  Rivera didn’t have to open up this much about Cam’s role in tutoring this new bunch of receivers that he won’t get many reps with.  As usual, Rivera was open and simply honest.  This should be very encouraging to Panther fans.  Cam’s leadership ability has been a question mark following the young star.  Cam took some big steps forward as a leader and pro last year, and it looks like he is continuing to embrace this growth.  (I wonder if this gives a little more insight into the whole Smitty situation in the locker room?)

Fifth, Rivera addressed that brutal 2014 Panthers schedule.  Hurney and Gardner asked Rivera how he was preparing for that brutal stretch from Cincinnati to Atlanta, where the Panthers have play Green Bay, Seattle, and New Orleans in between.  Ron “Coolio” Rivera reminded us of just how cool he keeps it when he responded, “he handn’t thought about that way” until they pointed it out.   Rivera warned “don’t get caught up in what the schedule says” and instead to “focus on what it is.”  Again, this is why Rivera is legit.  He doesn’t flinch, nor does he have the luxury of doing so.  “This is who we play this week. Every time you step on the football field, you’re trying to win,” he stated.  Ron Rivera left the fear and panic for us, because he will lead these guys into any battle!

Maybe I’m making too much out of this interview.  This hot weather has had me thirsting of a drink of Panther news and info.  Rivera’s interview today helped quench that thirst, even if it was for just a moment.  You tell me, was this storylines converging or am I just so thirsty I’ll drink any Kool-Aid out there?

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