Asked who the most influential leader in his life has been, Ron Rivera says, without hesitation: “My mother.”
Speaking at a lunch benefit for the military nonprofit Charlotte Bridge Home Tuesday, the Carolina Panthers head coach explained his aptly-timed answer: While his father served in the U.S. Army for over three decades, and his mother often had to assume the role of both parents – no easy task for a family of four boys. “Mom had a real good back hand,” Rivera joked.
“For the military spouses out there, you know that when your loved one has to go overseas like my father did on several occasions, that other (parent) is in charge,” said Rivera, who grew up on an Army base in California.
In a Q&A-style discussion at the Fillmore, Rivera drew several parallels between football and the military, and said that growing up in a military family instilled in him strong leadership skills.
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“We try to emulate the military more than anything else,” Rivera said of the Panthers.
For him as a coach, he explained, that means delegating tasks, establishing a common goal, and fostering a sense of family and a good culture.
In the locker room, veteran players who have developed those skills stand out as some of the strongest leaders, said Rivera, citing linebacker Thomas Davis, the Panthers’ longest-tenured player who has overcome three ACL tears.
“(He is) not just a leader, but the emotional leader on the team, which I think is very important. You’ve gotta have that guy who really speaks from the heart, and he does.”
Rivera said he considers the “next generation” of leaders to be players like KK Short and Trai Turner, both “young guys who are talented but also community-oriented.”
Rivera said he has worked to build on the close relationship the Panthers have traditionally had with the military. Part of that, he said, means hiring veterans into the organization. “It starts with some of our security folks, and some of the people who do general services throughout the stadium. I’m thrilled Mr. Richardson does that on purpose.”
Job placement is a goal the organization shares with Charlotte Bridge Home. The nonprofit operates a bit like a local college alumni association, but for returning military veterans. Along with employment services, the group facilitates things like meet-ups, workouts and health-care guidance.
Rivera, who is also involved with the USO with his wife, Stephanie, said like retired NFL players, veterans returning to civilian life often lack a support system. Groups like Charlotte Bridge Home, he explained, “give veterans an opportunity to be part of a team again.”