CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Panthers special teams coordinator Brian Murphy on Monday became the latest casualty of Carolina’s disappointing season.
Coach Ron Rivera announced the Panthers (2-7) fired Murphy one day after Carolina surrendered a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown to Trindon Holliday in Sunday’s 36-14 loss to the Denver Broncos.
Rivera said he has promoted assistant special teams coach Richard Rodgers to coordinator. Rodgers, in his first season in Carolina, was a college teammate of Rivera’s at Cal.
Rivera said the decision was made because of “philosophical differences and productivity.”
Earlier this year, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson fired general manager Marty Hurney after the team lost its fifth straight game. Hurney has yet to be replaced, but the team has hired former New York Giants GM Ernie Accorsi to serve as a consultant to lead the search for Hurney’s replacement.
“This is a production-based business and in the end winning and losing is what it comes down to,” Rivera said.
The coach said he’s looking to see improvement in all special teams areas, which is what he related to Rodgers in a meeting Monday morning.
“I told him I wanted things simplified and I wanted to come back to fundamental basics and that’s the direction we’re going to head right now,” Rivera said.
Special teams player Colin Jones said he was surprised that Murphy was fired, but believes the Panthers are in good hands with Rodgers, whom players refer to as “Rock.”
“I respect Rock a lot and he knows his stuff,” Jones said. “I think everybody is eager to work with him and everybody respects him and I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction with Rock leading us.”
Murphy came under fire last season as the Panthers allowed three punt returns for touchdowns and struggled in the return game and kicking game. In the offseason the Panthers cut veteran punter Jason Baker and then replaced veteran Olindo Mare with CFL kicker Justin Medlock.
Rivera brought in Rodgers to assist Murphy in the offseason, but said he never considered firing Murphy.
Carolina’s coverage teams rank 18th in the NFL in punt return coverage and first in kickoff return, although the latter is skewed after the Panthers employed a strategy of “popping up” kickoffs the week before against Chicago to take Devin Hester out of the game.
Rivera would also like to see improvement in the return game. The Panthers are 31st in the league in punt return average and 21st in kickoff return average.
Carolina drafted punt returner Joe Adams in the fourth round to give them what Rivera called “a home-run hitter” in the return game. But he’s been a disappointment and has been inactive for the past six games after fumbling twice in Carolina’s 36–7 loss to the Giants in Week 3.
However, Rivera said he may give Adams another chance when he shows more consistency in practice.
Rivera said rookie punter Brad Nortman has struggled with his directional punting and that’s something that needs to improve. On Sunday, Nortman was supposed to punt the ball near the sidelines, but instead punted it right down the middle where Holliday could return it.
Rivera said Carolina’s punt coverage team needs to add a marquee gunner who can run down punts.
“We need that one gunner, that special guy, and that’s what we’re trying to find,” Rivera said. “Then you can turn your punter loose and say hey, kick is high as you want and as far as you want because we have a guy who is going to get there (to cover). We don’t have that right now, to be very frank. .. We have to find that one guy who makes a difference.”
Medlock’s job appears safe despite missing a 43-yard field goal against the Broncos. Medlock is 7 of 9 on field goal attempts his season with one kick blocked.
“I’m not as concerned about Justin as much as I am with the punter,” Rivera said.
Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski called Murphy a “great guy,” but said the Panthers need to stay focused on the task ahead.
“It doesn’t change anything from the standpoint of what we need to do as far as winning games and what we need to do to improve on offense,” Chudzinski said.