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Rivera makes good first-year impression


CHARLOTTE - Ron Rivera saw flashes of brilliance from his young team in 2011, but the Panthers couldn't quite achieve a level of consistency.

Consistency, as it turns out, was one thing the Panthers could always count on from their rookie coach.

"We've known where he has stood from the beginning, and he hasn't wavered on it," left guard Travelle Wharton said. "He doesn't change his philosophy at all. He makes you play to that high standard. Each guy that receives a jersey, that's the standard you have to play to.

"There are great things coming from this team, and he's a great leader."

Rivera didn't know what to expect when he accepted his first head coaching job nearly a year ago, and Panthers players didn't know what to expect, either. On the opening day roster, only wide receiver Steve Smith had played for any head coach other than John Fox in Carolina, spending his rookie season with George Seifert at the helm.

Smith, like everyone else, came away both impressed and encouraged.

"I love the expectations and the work ethic that Coach Rivera is instilling," Smith said. "He's attacking it and saying, 'Hey, we need to get better in these areas, and if you aren't willing to work, you aren't going to be here.' "

Rivera, an NFL assistant coach for 14 seasons, said Monday after the Panthers wrapped up a 6-10 season that changes and improvements are needed. At the same time, he believes that many of the pieces are in place to achieve the ultimate goal – a Super Bowl title like the one he captured as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears 26 years ago.

"We really wanted to get guys onboard, believing in what we're trying to accomplish," Rivera said. "There are some very good football players here, and we've got to put more around them and develop more. We've got to coach 'em up, and they've got to continue to have the type of attitude they have.

"I believe in everything I'm doing more so now than at any other time -based on winning four of the last six and playing the way we did, and being in the lead in 14 of 16 games. This group of young men gave me a real optimistic outlook on what we can become, and I'm real excited about that."


Rivera was asked to reflect on his favorite moments from his first season. All of them revolved around interactions with his players.

"There really were a lot – everything from the very first practice we had to getting to lead the team prayer after a game," Rivera said. "That really was a neat thing. When we won the preseason game against the Giants, getting to say the prayer and giving thanks was a pretty powerful thing for me personally.

"And having players coming up to me and asking advice on certain things – that's something you want as a coach, players being able to come to you with personal issues and playing issues. When a guy can come to you and talk to you that freely like a bunch of them did, that meant a lot to me."

Rivera conducted individual interviews with players before they left Bank of America Stadium on Monday for the offseason. His chat with wide receiver Brandon LaFell summed up why he loves being a coach – and why he's loved as a coach.

"He's a young guy that I was down on at training camp, and to be able to look him in the eye and tell him, 'Boy, you've really grown as a football player,' that meant a lot," Rivera said. "Maybe I'm a little bit corny about that, but it's good to see those types of things happening. It does mean that we are doing things the right way, and we can continue to build."

Said LaFell: "He's a real good guy. He always gets us ready to play. He has taught us to believe in ourselves and always go out there with the mind frame to attack and know that we have a chance to win every game."

Rivera said he put his psychology degree to use this past season and that he also learned a little bit about his own psychological makeup, discovering that he has more patience than he realized.

From his players' perspective, he certainly pushed the right buttons.

"I love his message," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "He'll let you know when you're doing well; he'll let you know when you're not. He gave us an earful (Sunday) after the game because we didn't perform well – which I think we deserved – and then (Monday) he was positive and looking forward to the future.

"I think that's the way a head coach needs to be, and he's had the same message the whole time he's been here. He's somebody the players want to do well for, and that says a lot."

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