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Rivera, Frazier go way back

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CHARLOTTE - It took Ron Rivera nine interviews before he got his shot to be a head coach in the NFL.

Back in 1993, Rivera could have landed his first coaching job of any description without so much as an interview, but he passed.

Sunday, Rivera will face the man who offered him that job when Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier brings his Vikings to Bank of America Stadium.

Frazier and Rivera were Chicago Bears teammates in the mid-1980s – Frazier at cornerback, Rivera at linebacker. Frazier became the first head coach at Trinity University in suburban Chicago a couple of years after his retirement in 1986, and he reached out to Rivera following his retirement.

"I said, 'Ron, you ought to come over here and work with me, man. You'd be a good coach,'" Frazier said. "He said, 'I don't want to be a coach. I want to do this. I want to do that.'

"The next thing you know, he's the head coach of the Carolina Panthers."

It took a little longer than that, obviously, though Frazier likes to joke that it might not have taken so long if Rivera had chosen a different path. Frazier already had helped Rivera's wife, Stephanie, land a job on the Trinity women's basketball staff, but Rivera decided he wasn't interested in going back to school.

Instead, he opted to work in Chicago as a sports analyst after his playing days.

"Leslie always tells me that if I had started sooner, who knows, I might have moved up in the world faster," Rivera said. "It was always in the back of my mind, like when Leslie would have a football camp and I'd come out and hang out for a week.

"I wasn't ready at the time, but somewhere along the line, I realized I was ready."

After four years in television and radio, Rivera did decide to get into coaching. He spent two seasons on the Bears staff before heading to Philadelphia in 1999 to coach the linebackers.

That same year, Frazier made his NFL coaching debut as defensive backs coach – with the Eagles.

"I'm just glad I had the opportunity to work with him as long as I did in Philadelphia, and I stay in touch with him," Rivera said. "He's a special person. He's one of the really, really good people in football, and I'm very happy he has this opportunity."

While Rivera got his first taste of NFL coaching a couple of years before Frazier, Frazier got a head coaching job first – barely. Frazier was assistant head coach for the Vikings last season when Brad Childress was fired after a 3-7 start, and Frazier took over as interim coach and went 3-3, allowing him to shed the "interim" tag.

Rivera is in his first season as Panthers head coach.

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"It will be great," Rivera said. "It goes back to that thing where you always compete against your brother. You always want to beat him. You don't want to see anybody get hurt; you just want to beat him.

"Leslie is probably one of my best friends in coaching. We played together, and we lived in the same area in Chicago for a long time. I got to know him very well. If there's anybody in this league that I'd turn to for guidance or a good word, Leslie is probably the first one I'd call."

Just not this week.

"We talk almost every week, but we're not going to talk this week," Frazier said. "Ron and I are very close."

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