Updated at: 01/05/2013 8:37 PM
By STEVE REED
(AP) CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Ron Rivera will return as coach of the Carolina Panthers next season following his team’s strong finish.
Panthers spokesman Charlie Dayton said Rivera met with owner Jerry Richardson Saturday morning and was informed that he will return for a third season. Rivera has two years on his current contract.
"He’s going about normal preparations for next season," Dayton said.
Rivera’s status with the Panthers had been up in the air pending a meeting with Richardson on Saturday morning.
Richardson fired longtime GM Marty Hurney after a 1-5 start and informed Rivera at the time Panthers needed to be "trending upward" the rest of the season.
The Panthers went 6-4 from that point out, including four straight wins to close the season.
It’s unclear at this point if Rivera, who went 13-19 in two seasons with Carolina, will be forced to make any changes to his staff. The Panthers finished this season 7-9 this season, good for second place in the NFC South.
Rivera did not return phone messages Saturday.
Dayton said neither Rivera nor Richardson would be commenting on the decision. Other members of the organization were asked not to comment on the decision either, per Richardson’s request.
However, players were quick to applaud the decision.
"I’m very happy he’s back," tight end Greg Olsen told The Associated Press. "Obviously the season wasn’t what we were looking for, but I think the way we finished showed that we’re heading in the right direction.
"The guys have a lot of faith in coach Rivera and guys didn’t want to let him down. I think the way we finished, winning four straight, shows a lot about the direction we’re headed and our faith in him as our coach moving forward. I’m glad that things worked out."
Rivera won a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears in 1985 as a linebacker and broke into the coaching ranks shortly after his nine-year NFL career ended, first serving as an understudy to Dave Wannstedt in Chicago.
He quickly climbed the coaching ladder and was defensive coordinator in Chicago and San Diego before landing his first head coaching position in Carolina in 2011. That came after he was turned down for eight other head coaching jobs.
Offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner was also thrilled with the news.
"That’s awesome news," Hangartner said. "I’m excited about it. I think Ron has done a great job and I think he will be the first to admit he’s learned a lot since he was hired. He definitely has the respect of the guys in the locker room because he’s played the game and he treats guys the right way."
Richardson is expected to turn his attention to filling the GM spot and interviews will come in the next week.
Richardson hired former New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi to serve as a consultant for the GM search and the team has already received permission to interview two members of the New York Giants staff _ college scouting director Marc Ross and senior pro personnel analyst Dave Gettleman.
Others potential candidates include Green Bay Packers director of player personnel John Dorsey, Tennessee Titans vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson and Minnesota Vikings assistant GM George Paton.
Panthers interim general manager Brandon Beane is also expected to receive consideration for the position.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)