CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In one short burst, you get it all from the Carolina Panthers head coach.
“My goal is to be a Super Bowl winning head coach,” Ron Rivera said. “Not to be a head coach. Not to get to the (the Super Bowl) but to win it.”
He has the undeniable enthusiasm, the military bearing passed down from his father and a faith set in stone.
Rivera is sure the Panthers organization has what it takes to win the Super Bowl.
“Everybody (in the Panthers organization) wants to win. There’s no, you know, being halfway. Oh, you know, it’s great to have a job. No it’s, ‘I want to win.'”
This is the week the dreams get more vivid and his thoughts drift back to his first Super Bowl when he was a linebacker for the 1985 Chicago Bears.
“The ’85 Super Bowl, in January of ’86,” Rivera recalled, “was the first real rock star Super Bowl. And we had the whole pageantry coming down there. We had the Super Bowl Shuffle. We had the punky quarterback in Jim McMahon.”
Like all of his teammates, Rivera embraced coach Mike Ditka’s invitation to relish every bit of Super Bowl week in New Orleans.
Rivera remembers Ditka saying, ‘There’s not gonna be any curfew guys. I want you to go out and enjoy it until Friday.’ So we had a curfew on Friday, which was midnight, and I think half the guys missed that.”
The nights out were fun, but it’s the Saturday night pre-game meeting that stuck with Rivera. It was emotional and inspirational, cementing a bond that changed so much about that team and his life.
“I promise you anybody from the ‘85 team that you talk to could talk about how they loved each other. The thing that’s crazy is most of those guys were on the ’86 team. And you don’t remember the ’86 season because I think there were some elements missing,” Rivera said.
Rivera’s not just building a team. He’s building a bond and a football brotherhood. Every day, every meeting, every moment with his players is sacred.
“Not only look at me as a coach, but as a mentor. And that’s what I hope to do here,” Rivera said. “Because I think if we can get these young men in a good place as people, they’ll be in a great place as players. That happened at the end of the year. I had guys come talk to me about stuff off the field. About different situations as opposed to football.”
Those talks started with Cam Newton, with time set aside on the schedule every week.
“He sees it. He sees the big picture. Sure, I know there’s some things that he’s working on and developing as a person. But the one thing you cannot deny is the young man wants to be a winner,” Rivera said.
Last year Rivera went to Auburn to see for himself. This year at the Senior Bowl everyone in the NFL came to Carolina’s coach to find out how you set the table for one of the most productive rookie seasons in NFL history.
“It was amazing how many guys came up and talked about ‘Hey, what did you go through? What helped make your decision? What did you guys see? What were you guys looking for?'”
Other teams can see the plays. They can see the touchdowns. Ron Rivera sees a look and he knows.
“There’s an infectious smile that the young man has that when I see it I know he’s confident and ready to go. It’s all part of his persona, who he is,” Rivera said.
It’s all about a trust and that bond. Their final meeting after the season took it all to a new level.
“He’s going to do everything he can to be better,” Rivera said. “When we got done with that conversation I wanted to start right then and there. He has this way of making you feel and realize that he can get it done.”
He doesn’t point to a position or a player as the next step for Carolina. He points to details like ownership from his players. When they do it like they did on the ’85 Super Bowl champions, look out.
Rivera’s enthusiasm bubbles over as he speaks.
“We had a young guy who wasn’t doing the things he was supposed to. And I watched four guys wheel this young guy into a tool shed and just basically set him straight. That was the whole thing about taking ownership.”
“Do you have a tool shed here?” Greg Bailey asked Rivera.
The coach fired back.
“Yeah, we’re having one built,” he said.