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Carolina Panthers

Rivera ready for his moment


CHARLOTTE - When the final whistle blows on a momentous victory, it's not uncommon for a conquering coach to scan the stands for loved ones and send a sign of affection their way.

When Ron Rivera makes his NFL head coaching debut Sunday at Arizona, he won't even wait until the opening kickoff.

"I'll hopefully find where my wife is sitting in the stands, and I'll point up to her and let her know, 'We made it,'" Rivera said. "It's a culmination for me. I've worked for this and hoped for this, and now I've got my opportunity. It's a profound moment for me personally."

Rivera interviewed for eight NFL head coaching jobs over six years before the ninth one - with the Carolina Panthers - proved to be the charmed one.

It officially is a new role for the long-time assistant, as he was reminded in a preseason game when he wondered why the Panthers' punt coverage team hadn't yet taken the field. He finally realized it was because he had failed to signal the unit onto the field.

There are new little things every day, but in the big picture, the 49-year-old has taken on the appearance of a seasoned veteran.

"He has coached for so long and he played for so long that he knows what's what," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "Nothing has really been overwhelming to him. He's handled situations that have come up on and off the field and has always had good things to say to us – whether it's congratulations or saying something to us to get us going. It's a lot of fun playing for him."

Rivera is a players' coach first and foremost because he played for the Chicago Bears for nine seasons before spending 14 seasons as an assistant coach with the Bears, San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles.

On the other hand, he also brings the mentality of a 1980s Bears linebacker to the mix, not to mention the background of a man who spent his childhood on a multitude of military bases.


"I like his straightforwardness," wide receiver Steve Smith said. "He's no nonsense. What you see is what you get – there are no 'isms.'"

As such, Rivera is clear on the one thing that above all he wants his first team to be about.

"If there is one stamp that I hope I can get across, it is that if we do anything, we play hard," Rivera said. "When they put the tape on, I want them to say, 'Boy, they play hard. This group gives them everything they can.' That to me is probably the best thing you can have somebody say to you as a coach."

Rivera recalled a 36-14 victory over the Indianapolis Colts last season – a game in which his Chargers defense picked off Peyton Manning four times – and the response he got from family and friends of mentor Jim Johnson, the late defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I got a note from Vicki Johnson, Jim Johnson's wife, and a nice note from a friend of Jim's," Rivera said. "He basically said, 'Jim would have been really proud of the way you guys played. You played hard.' When you hear things like that, you're doing your job."

Rivera recognizes that playing hard might not always be enough for the Panthers this season, coming off a two-win season and starting a rookie quarterback. He also knows that convincing players to collectively give everything they have hits at the heart of winning.

It's what he did as a Super Bowl-winning player with the Bears. It's what he preached as a successful assistant coach.

It's also what he'll hang his hat on now that his chance to be the man in charge has at long last arrived.

"We've got a long way to go. We've got a mountain to climb," Rivera said. "I told the guys that I've been to the top and I know what it's like, and I'd love for our guys to have that opportunity.

"We're going to work toward that, and I am excited for Sunday."

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