Mar 1, 2013
7:30 AM - 9:45 AM
Carmel Country Club
4735 Carmel Rd
Charlotte, NC 28226
Discipline and structure. Attention to detail and preparation. Hard work. Respect. Teamwork. All of these qualities apply to Ron Rivera, who was named the fourth head coach in Carolina Panthers’ history on Jan. 11, 2011.
They were also the qualities he exhibited in his first campaign as the Panthers tripled their win total from the previous season despite no off-season and an epidemic of defensive injuries. Rivera did not even meet his team until they reported to training camp and despite a slow start, held it together to finish with four wins in the final six games.
His success was no surprise, for Rivera has excelled as a coach and player during his 24 years in the NFL, serving as coordinator for the San Diego Chargers top-ranked defense in 2010 and playing linebacker for the Chicago Bears’ top-ranked defense and Super Bowl XX champion- ship team in 1985. In 15 seasons as a coach and nine as a player, he has been with teams that have reached the playoffs 16 times, including eight conference championships and two Super Bowls.
The mentality of the Chargers defense that Rivera coached and the Bears defense on which Rivera played resonates within the head coach. But that 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 before last sea- son. “I want it to be a physical, no-nonsense, get-the-job- done identity.”
With that philosophy and the addition of quarterback Cam Newton, the Panthers jumped from last to seventh in total offense in his first season. The defensive development was stymied by perpetually rotating personnel, but by the last six games, the Panthers were steadfast enough for a strong finish.
Rivera’s identity has been influenced by two innovative defensive coordinators. As a player, Rivera was coached by Buddy Ryan, the architect of the “46 Defense,” which involved blitzing on nearly every down. As a coach, Rivera toiled under the late Jim Johnson, a highly-regarded defensive coordinator renowned for his aggressive approach.
His identity also has been shaped by his family. The son of a U.S. Army officer and the second-youngest of four boys, Rivera learned from a young age about chain of command and many of the principles he teaches and expects from his players.
“Coming from a military background, there’s a lot of discipline, a lot of structure. That’s how I feel when I coach,” Rivera said.
Rivera worked with the San Diego Chargers from 2007-10. He coached inside linebackers before taking over as the team’s defensive coordinator midway through the 2008 season.
With Rivera’s guidance, the pass defense steadied itself – intercepting nine passes and yielding 229.6 passing yards per game and 11 touchdown passes over the final eight games. Those numbers contrasted to the first half of the season when San Diego notched just seven picks and was victimized for 265.1 yards per game and 14 touchdowns through the air.
In Rivera’s first full season leading the defense in 2009, the Chargers ranked 16th in total defense and 11th against the pass. One of the unit’s strengths was playing tough after offensive turnovers, giving up only 44 points, a figure that tied New England for the second-fewest in the NFL.
Those rankings improved in 2010 as San Diego led the NFL with an average of 271.6 total yards allowed per game and gave up a league-low 177.8 passing yards per game. Overall, the Chargers finished in the top five in 11 different defensive statistical categories despite not having any defenders selected to the Pro Bowl.
From 2004-06, Rivera oversaw the Chicago Bears defense, engineering the unit to two top-five finishes in the league. Under Rivera’s direction, five different defensive players went to the Pro Bowl: linebacker Lance Briggs, safety Mike Brown, defensive tackle Tommie Harris, linebacker Brian Urlacher and cornerback Nathan Vasher.
In his first season as a defensive coordinator in 2004, Rivera presided over a defense that produced nine more takeaways and 17 more sacks than the previous year and scored a franchise record and NFC high six defensive touchdowns. The Bears also thrived on third down and buckled down inside their own 20-yard line, ranking first in the NFL in third-down efficiency (30.5%) and topping the NFC in red zone defense (42.6%).
The following year, Chicago continued to build on the foundation Rivera laid in 2004. The Bears won their first of two consecutive NFC North titles and stood second in the NFL in total defense. In surrendering the fewest points in the league, Rivera’s defense went 43 consecutive quarters without allowing more than seven points – the longest streak in the NFL since 1969. Chicago also led the NFL in red zone defense (32.5%) and rated second in third-down efficiency (31.9%).
During Rivera’s last season with the Bears in 2006, the defense paced the NFL with 44 takeaways and finished fifth in the league in total defense and third in scoring defense, helping propel Chicago to the NFC Championship and an appearance in Super Bowl XLI.
Prior to becoming a defensive coordinator, Rivera spent five seasons from 1999-2003 as the linebackers coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, who advanced to the NFC Championship game in each of his final three seasons. Twice during Rivera’s tenure with the Eagles, the team finished second in the NFL in scoring defense and in 2001 held all 16 of its opponents to less than 21 points – making them just the fourth team in NFL history to do so.
While with Philadelphia, Rivera helped develop linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. In his first year as a starter in 1999, Trotter posted a team-high 202 tackles and subsequently earned Pro Bowl honors in 2000 and 2001. In Rivera’s five seasons with the Eagles, a member of his linebacking corps led the team in tackles four times.
Rivera gained his first coaching experience with the Bears as defensive quality control coach from 1997-98.
He is just the third Latino head coach in NFL history, joining Tom Flores with the Oakland Raiders from 1979-87 and Seattle Seahawks from 1992-94 and Tom Fears with the New Orleans Saints from 1967-70.
PLAYING AND PERSONAL: Following his retirement, Rivera went into broadcasting. He covered the Bears and college football as a television analyst for WGN and SportsChannel Chicago for four years from 1993-96. Selected in the second round of the 1984 NFL Draft by Chicago, Rivera played all nine of his pro seasons with the Bears. Primarily an outside linebacker, he appeared in 149 games with 62 starts (including 12 postseason contests with six starts) and posted 392 tackles, 7.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, nine interceptions and 15 passes defensed. Rivera was a member of six NFC Central division title teams and a Super Bowl XX championship team in 1985.
As a player, Rivera was known for both his skill and determination on the field and his dedication of time and energy to the community. As a result, he was named the Bears Man of the Year in 1988 and earned the club’s Ed Block Courage Award in 1989.
An All-American at the University of California, Rivera finished his career as the school’s all-time leader in sacks with 22 and tackles with 336. As a senior in 1983, he set the Bears single-season record for sacks with 13 and tackles for loss with 26.5.
Born Jan. 7, 1962 in Fort Ord, Calif., Rivera lived in Germany, Panama, Washington and Maryland before his family settled in Marina, Calif. He attended Seaside High School in Marina and was a three-sport star in football, basket- ball and baseball.
Rivera and his wife, Stephanie, have two children, Christopher and Courtney. Stephanie is a former assistant coach for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.