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Carolina Panthers

"So many fond memories." Ron Rivera reacts to being let go after nine years in Carolina


CHARLOTTE – The boxes were being filled with personal items. Picture frames were being taken down. Papers were briefly looked at and tossed away.

Ron Rivera was packing up his home away from home, his office at Bank of America Stadium for the past nine years as Carolina's head coach.

Last week at this time he was preparing for a game against Washington. Now his desk was clear.

It's a tough business, one Rivera knows well.

"We did a lot," Rivera said when asked to reflect on his time in Carolina moments before leaving his office Tuesday. "The people. We brought in good men, good coaches. We did things the right way. How fortunate I am..."

His voice cracked ever so slightly.

"This has been really cool," Rivera said softly.

Rivera takes so much pride in helping make this franchise relevant. If you remember, he even had "Be Relevant" hats and T-shirts made. Oh so many T-shirts.

Rivera took over a team that had just gone 2-14 in 2010. It was pretty much rock bottom. Then, with No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton leading a resurgence, the Panthers improved to 6-10. In 2012, they went 7-9. Then the franchise was finally back to the playoffs with a 12-4 record in 2013.

"That's probably the biggest thing, coming from where we started, where we came from, you know?" Rivera said. "That's the biggest gratification to me. We started way down and worked our way up to being respectable. Unfortunately, we couldn't maintain it."

The 2015 season was a magical ride to Super Bowl 50 and that team reminded all of us how much joy this game can bring.

No, there weren't back-to-back winning seasons. But don't forget about those three straight division titles from 2013-15. Rivera sure won't.

"I do want to get one thing clear. Three straight division titles – that means winning doesn't it? We were the first ones to do that," said Rivera, who twice was named NFL Coach of the Year.

No denying that.

Rivera built a rock-solid locker room culture. He established a clear defensive identity. These past two seasons clearly haven't gone as planned. And now change has come.

But when we all look back on it, Rivera's tenure was about more than football. Whatever the off-field matter was – players dealing with grief, grief over losing his older brother, Newton's car crash, his own house burning down, protests in Charlotte, Hurricane Florence – Rivera's leadership was a constant.

"I really believe it was my responsibility to this organization and this community," Rivera said. "My dad gave me a lesson in leadership when I first got the job. He said, 'Ronnie – you're the leader. And if all hell breaks loose, they are going to need you. You have to be steady, you have to be calm.' My dad got the bronze star in Vietnam for his actions during an attack. He was the only officer present during this attack, and he stepped up and led.

"I've always tried to remember that I had a responsibility to lead and be the same guy all the time. It was hard. A lot of people said they wished I would be more emotional."

Tuesday was an undeniably emotional day. Owner David Tepper was open and honest about that.

Rivera meant a lot to the Panthers and the Charlotte community. The Panthers and the Charlotte community meant a lot to him. That's how it was always supposed to be.

"Great years. I absolutely enjoyed it," Rivera said. "So many fond memories. I just think back to how much fun we had and how great it really was."