Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was known for being a tad bit conservative and following conventional football wisdom when he was first hired.
Rivera’s tenure with Carolina was about to come to an abrupt end after he infamously elected to kick a field goal when facing a fourth-and-1 at the Buffalo 21 with 1:42 left in the game. At the time, the Panthers were up 20-17 and the Bills had just called their final timeout.
With a backfield featuring running backs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert as well as quarterback Cam Newton, everyone figured Rivera would go for it and ice the game. Even if the Panthers didn’t get the first down, the Bills would have been in a tough position to march down the field and attempt a game-tying field goal.
Instead of having Tolbert barrel through the heart of the Buffalo line or Newton sneak the ball for that yard, Rivera sent Graham Gano out on the field to attempt a 39-yard field goal. Gano split the uprights and the Panthers led 23-17.
On the ensuing possession, Buffalo put together a nine-play, 80-yard game-winning drive that inched Rivera one step closer to the unemployment line.
That is when Rivera revealed his alter-ego, “Riverboat Ron.” Mr. Conservative turned into a risk-taker and guided the Panthers to back-to-back NFC South titles.
Richmond Senior fans won’t have to worry about new football coach Mike Castellano waiting to become a risk-taker — he already has that gene embedded in him.
In the 2013 4AA East Regional final against Wake Forest, Middle Creek had just taken a 14-7 lead in the opening moments of the second quarter. Conventional football wisdom says to kick the ball deep and let your defense go to work.
Castellano bucked that trend.
He called for an onside kick and the Mustangs recovered it. His team marched down the field and were lining up for a field goal that would have given Middle Creek a 10-point lead.
And guess what? The field-goal try never happened because Castellano called for a fake. It didn’t work, but Wake Forest had to be on alert the rest of the game for any onside kicks or fake field goals.
Call him “Monte Carlo Mike.”
Former Richmond coach Paul Hoggard wasn’t known for being a huge risk-taker, but didn’t shy away for going for it on fourth down. It was just that he calculated the odds and when they were in his favor, he went for it. And when they weren’t, Hoggard relied on the tried and true conventional football wisdom.
But Castellano and Hoggard have different philosophies and both work for them. Castellano was an eyelash away from playing Mallard Creek for the title in 2013 and Richmond fans know Hoggard led his squad to the 2008 state championship.
As a fan, knowing your coach isn’t afraid to reach deep into his bag of tricks to pull out a win is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. Seeing your team attempt and recover an onside kick while leading in the second quarter is much different than seeing it fail and watch it the opponent seize the game’s momentum.
That is going to be the biggest test for the Richmond faithful when Castellano calls for the onside kick or fake field goal against rival Scotland this fall at Pate Stadium. If it is successful, the roar from the visiting stands will be deafening compared to the stunned disbelief on the home side.
However, if the decision backfires…well, you can’t call him “Monte Carlo Mike” for no reason.
Reach managing editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 and follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.