Rivera coaching with a heavy heart

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Mickey Rivera was an inspiration and a symbol of strength and perseverance to his younger brother Ron.

Mickey passed away Tuesday after battling cancer, just days prior to the start of Ron's fifth training camp as head coach of the Carolina Panthers. He was 56.

"He's in a better place now," Rivera said. "It's one of those things – in Mickey's mind, he didn't want to be a distraction.

"It was never really about him. He never complained," Rivera added. "When you talk to somebody who was in a situation like he was and you see him just going forward and doing the best he can – you do draw inspiration from it."

Rivera said it's been an up-and-down week for he and his family. Prior to his brother's death, Rivera and his wife were at long last able to move back into their Charlotte home that sustained major damage days before the Panthers' loss to Seattle in the NFC Divisional Playoff in January. The couple had been living in a friend's rental home on Lake Wylie, S.C., for the last six months.

"Trying to unpack boxes has been nice. Being able to sleep in your own bed before coming down here – that was a nice little distraction for us," Rivera said. "Getting word about Mickey was tough."

Rivera will leave training camp to attend the funeral with family. He'll miss practice on Saturday and Sunday, turning the team over to assistant head coach Steve Wilks.

"We've got a plan in place," Rivera said. "I'll talk to a few of the veteran leaders so they understand and know where I'll be."

Tight end Greg Olsen, one of those veteran leaders, knows Rivera will be coaching with a heavy heart.

"It's been a rough couple years for their family, and his brother has really fought," Olsen said. "It's a terrible tragedy. Coach is a strong guy, and his family is very strong and very close. They'll get through this the best they can."

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