Scott Fowler

7 things you might not know about Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera (right) stands outside his home as Charlotte firefighters battled a two-alarm fire at the home in early January. The house sustained about $500,000 worth of damage. The Rivera family moved back into the house in late July.
Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera (right) stands outside his home as Charlotte firefighters battled a two-alarm fire at the home in early January. The house sustained about $500,000 worth of damage. The Rivera family moved back into the house in late July. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

1. NO PILOT LIGHT: Carolina Panthers coach Rivera and his wife, Stephanie, just moved back into their fire-damaged house after an absence of nearly eight months. The house caught fire in January and sustained about $500,000 in damage. No one was hurt. The faulty installation of a gas fireplace was apparently to blame.

But although that fireplace has been replaced, Rivera doesn’t plan to turn it on even when it gets cold – at least not anytime soon.

“In all honesty, I’m still a little skittish about fireplaces,” Rivera said. “They just put in the new fireplace, and I actually had them turn the pilot light off.”

2. JORDAN’S ASSIST: The Riveras lived in Jordan Gross’s old house in the Lake Wylie area for almost all of those eight months while their Charlotte house was being restored.

3. BIGGEST EARLY MISTAKE: Now entering his fifth year as the Panthers’ coach, Rivera said he made “a lot of mistakes when I first got here.”

The one he regrets the most?

“I didn’t hire a guy who had previous NFL head-coaching experience,” Rivera said, “so I didn’t have a guy I could talk to when something happened. That would have helped.”

4. LOSS THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING: “The low-water mark was the Buffalo loss in 2013,” Rivera said. “I second-guessed my decision and kicked the field goal as opposed to going for it. I had contemplated that sort of situation a long time in the offseason and I didn’t stick with what I wanted to do, and that bothered me.”

If you remember, the Panthers were ahead 20-17 with less than two minutes to go and faced a fourth-and-1 at Buffalo’s 21 with 1:48 left. They could have won the game with one yard and a first down. Instead, Rivera kicked a field goal, Buffalo marched for the winning TD – and Rivera went for it on fourth down in almost every key situation the rest of the season, leading to the “Riverboat Ron” nickname.

The Panthers never made the playoffs in back-to-back years under their three previous coaches. Rivera guided them to postseason berths in 2013 and 2014.

5. THE ADVISORY COUNCIL: Rivera has made it a point to lean on his veteran players more and more through the years as he grows comfortable with delegating responsibility to those he trusts. He also enters the Panthers’ locker room and talks with players far more often than he did in his first two seasons. Before he left training camp for two days to go to his older brother’s funeral, Rivera met with his six captains from last season – Greg Olsen, Charles Johnson, Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Ryan Kalil and Thomas Davis – and asked them to keep an eye on things.

Rivera also left it up to those six to shut down the “chirping” between offense and defense during training camp that helped set the mood for the Newton-Josh Norman fight Monday, and he says they did without any input from him.

6. BIG INFLUENCES: Besides his parents and his brothers, Rivera cites team owner Jerry Richardson and former NFL coach John Madden as people he has learned a great deal from since becoming a head coach. An avid reader, Rivera also likes to study biographies of leaders such as Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower.

7. CHARITY WORK: Rivera and his wife have found several charities particularly close to their heart since relocating to Charlotte in 2011. Rivera will be the honorary starter for the PurpleStride Charlotte 5K run/walk on Sept. 12, the day before the Panthers’ season opener. The event helps raise money to fight pancreatic cancer, a disease that claimed Rivera’s older brother Mickey in July.

Rivera’s recent bowling event supported the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte and raised over $95,000. The Riveras also support the USO and have been heavily involved in several fundraisers for the Humane Society of Charlotte (the Riveras are major dog people).

Ron Rivera year-by-year

Year

Record

Comment

2011

6-10

Inherited 2-14 team; tripled win total

2012

7-9

1-6 start doomed coach's 2nd year

2013

12-4

Birth of "Riverboat Ron"; won NFC South

2014

7-8-1

Repeated as NFC South champion

Playoffs: Rivera has gone 1-2 in the postseason as a coach. The Panthers lost at home to San Francisco following the 2013 season. They beat Arizona at home in the 2014 playoffs, then went on the road and lost to Seattle. Counting postseason, Rivera's record after four seasons is 33-33-1.

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