CHARLOTTE - In about two weeks, Ron Rivera will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Super Bowl he won as a linebacker with the Chicago Bears.
Some day, he hopes to mark the occasion when he won a Super Bowl as head coach of the Carolina Panthers.
"This team has gotten to the NFC Championship game a couple of times. This team has gotten to the Super Bowl. My goal is not to just get to the NFC championship, not to just get to the Super Bowl, but to win," Rivera said Tuesday evening, when the Panthers introduced him as the fourth head coach in team history.
"When you get into playing, you strive for one thing, and that's to be a Super Bowl champion. When you get into coaching, you strive to be a Super Bowl winning head coach. That's what my goal is, to come here and become a Super Bowl winning head coach and to sustain an atmosphere of winning."
Rivera, who turned 49 Friday, will immediately begin the task of trying to turn around the fortunes of a team coming off a 2-14 season. He will do so as a first-time head coach but as a coach who's been around the block – 23 seasons as a player and coach - and who has known plenty of success, most recently as defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers led the NFL in total defense this past season, just like the Bears led the NFL in total defense in 1985 - a dominant unit still talked about today.
The mentality of that Bears defense, considered by some to be the greatest defense in NFL history, resonates in Rivera.
At the same time, Rivera's relentless style isn't limited to the defensive side of the ball.
"We're going to be an aggressive, physical football team - whether we're running the football, throwing the football, pass protecting or tackling," Rivera said. "I want it to be a physical, no-nonsense, get-the-job-done identity."
Rivera quickly emerged from a group of four defensive coordinators interviewed by the Panthers and was introduced less than a week after general manager Marty Hurney and team president Danny Morrison left town to begin conducting interviews.
"We spent about six hours with Ron, but it felt like an hour-and-a-half," Morrison said. "He was just so focused. He has a great philosophy. He understands the importance of all three phases.
"What we saw in him was a perfect fit for the Carolina Panthers. Our philosophies meshed well."
After Morrison and Hurney zipped from one coast to the other to interview candidates in their home areas - Perry Fewell in New York, Rob Ryan in Cleveland, Greg Manusky in San Francisco and Rivera in San Diego - the Panthers brought Rivera to Charlotte on Monday to meet with owner Jerry Richardson.
"His approach, his demeanor, his style, his experience and the fact that he's a former player seemed to me to be perfect for us at this particular point in time," Richardson said. "It gives me comfort that he's a former player. With me being a former player, there seemed to be a pretty quick bonding."
Rivera, an All-American linebacker at the University of California who still holds the single-season school record for tackles for loss, became the first Puerto Rican/Mexican to play in the NFL when the Bears picked him in the second round of the 1984 NFL draft.
He went onto play for the Bears for all nine of his seasons in the NFL, then spent four years as a football analyst in the Chicago television market before beginning his coaching career.
He spent three seasons as the Bears' defensive quality control coach, then five seasons as Philadelphia Eagles linebackers coach before returning to the Bears as defensive coordinator in 2004.
The Bears were a top-five defense in two of his three seasons there. He had been defensive coordinator for the Chargers for two-and-a-half seasons before Carolina came calling.
"I'm excited. I'm thrilled to death for the opportunity," said Rivera, whose first task will be to hire a staff. "If we can get the pieces in place, I think we have an opportunity to start having some success."