Panthers fire two defensive assistants after Bucs loss, Ron Rivera to handle play-calling duties

A month ago the Panthers were 6-2 and considered 1b. to the 1a. Saints in the NFC South. Carolina hasn't won a game since, and after Sunday's embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay, sit at 6-6, two places out of the final wild-card spot in the NFC.

With the season hanging in the balance, the Panthers fired defensive line coach Brady Hoke and assistant secondary/cornerbacks coach Jeff Imamura on Monday, the team announced.

"In my judgment, I felt this was best for the team moving forward," Rivera said. "These are always difficult decisions, and I thank Brady and Jeff for their hard work. Ultimately, I'm charged with putting the team in the best position to succeed, and I felt these moves were necessary in order to do that."

Rivera, who was a defensive coordinator with the Bears and Chargers before becoming the Panthers' coach in 2011, will handle the defensive play-calling duties. In addition, Eric Washington will oversee the defensive front seven, Sam Mills III will lead the defensive line and Rivera will work with Richard Rodgers in the secondary.

But Rivera was involved with the play-calling in Sunday's loss too.

"I was helping with the defensive play-calling all day," told reporters Sunday afternoon, via the Charlotte Observer. ... "Just a different set of eyes, another perspective," he added.

The development comes some 24 hours after CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported that new owner David Tepper has been mulling changes.

I have been hearing for weeks about Tepper's discontent with the direction of this franchise, and he has been discussing potential changes with confidants. Nothing he saw Sunday, with his season on the line at lowly Tampa, could possibly change that for the better. His defense stepped up some, finally, but his highest-paid player faltered and, now at 6-6 and just 4-5 within the NFC with two games against the Saints looming, Tepper's wanderlust will only continue.

The Panthers have four games remaining -- at Cleveland (1 p.m., Fox, stream on fuboTV, try for free), New Orleans, Atlanta, at New Orleans -- and may need to win out to earn a spot. Short of that and La Canfora thinks changes could be on the way.

This will be the most wanted job in the NFL if it opens up, and short of the Panthers making a wild run to the playoffs, I would expect it to open up based on what I've been hearing. There would be no shortage of suitors, and Ron Rivera will have other options, obviously, given what he has accomplished in Carolina.

Meanwhile, Rivera was not interested in entertaining questions about his job status.

"At the end of the day, unless Mr. Tepper says it, I'm not going to address it," Rivera said after the game. "So we can forget about asking me those questions, please."

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson joined CBS Sports in June 2011. He covers the NFL and NFL Draft for CBSSports.com and CBS Sports HQ, and is a regular on the Pick Six Podcast. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from... Full Bio

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