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Panthers’ Rivera building strong coaching staff

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Dan Parr
Associate editor

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Posted Jan. 23, 2011 @ 1:36 a.m. ET
By Dan Parr

League observers say John Fox suffered from not having a strong group of assistant coaches around him in his final years with the Panthers, but his replacement in Carolina, Ron Rivera, appears well on his way to avoiding the same mistake.

Rivera landed his first choice for offensive coordinator, Rob Chudzinski, and he moved quickly to hire Sean McDermott as defensive coordinator after McDermott was fired from the same job with the Eagles. Rivera is familiar with both men — he served on the Chargers' staff with Chudzinski before he was hired in Carolina and worked with McDermott for five years when they were both assistants with the Eagles.

The bond between Rivera and his coordinators certainly didn't hurt their chances of getting those jobs, but they are also well-qualified and drew interest from other teams before they joined the Panthers. Chudzinski, who was the Browns' O-coordinator from 2007-08, was being pursued by the Dolphins to be their O-coordinator before he signed with Carolina. While McDermott's star has faded somewhat since he took over a position previously held by the late Jim Johnson, he's still considered a bright defensive mind with great potential. Reports indicate Fox was interested in having McDermott join his staff in Denver, where he was hired as head coach, before McDermott signed with the Panthers.

Although the Panthers could bring in another quarterback in free agency or the draft to take the starting job, 2010 second-round pick Jimmy Clausen is in need of quality instruction after a rough rookie season, and the Panthers hired an experienced mentor for him. Mike Shula, who has 19 seasons of experience as an NFL assistant, will serve as Rivera's QB coach. Shula left the same job with the Jaguars to come to Carolina.

Rivera has built a relatively young staff thus far, and it will be a much different group from the one that ran things in Carolina previously — DB coach Ron Meeks and defensive quality-control/assistant DL coach Sam Mills III are the only holdovers from Fox's staff. Ultimately Rivera will be judged on wins and losses, but league observers have been impressed with how he's handled his initial task of hiring assistants.

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