The first week of January could have been an uneasy one for Panthers coach Ron Rivera.

Though he waited six days for a meeting with team owner Jerry Richardson to learn his fate, Rivera said he felt good about his chances of returning for a third season.

"I did, because of the way we finished and the way the players played down the stretch," Rivera said Tuesday. "I thought the guys did a great job for us and they played hard and played for themselves. They really wanted to win at the end and I think that's the most important thing."

The Panthers won their final four games, and five of their last six, to finish 7-9 and in second place in the NFC South.

Speaking publicly for the first time since he was retained, Rivera said Richardson gave him no directives about changing his staff or his philosophy. Rivera said it was his decision to fire three assistants last week – running backs coach John Settle, receivers coach Fred Graves and linebackers coach Warren Belin.

"Those are decisions I had to make based on some things I saw," Rivera said. "That's all I'll say on that issue."

Rivera said the sudden departure of offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski to Cleveland to become the Browns' head coach surprised him with "how quickly it happened." Chudzinski was hired last Thursday, two days after being contacted.

The Panthers interviewed two candidates for Chudzinski's position Monday, both former head coaches: Pat Shurmur and Hue Jackson. Shurmur, fired after two years as the Browns' coach, runs a West Coast offense that is in stark contrast to the downfield passing game and read-option package Chudzinski employed with quarterback Cam Newton.

"A lot of it's based on what we're doing here," Rivera said when asked about Shurmur's background. "As we go through this process, as (general manager) Dave (Gettleman) said, we're right in the midst of it. So I'm not going to say a lot about that."

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