It is Time to Recognize Ron Rivera as One of the Best Head Coaches in Football

The Carolina Panthers have started off the 2015 season 6 - 0 and have so far been one of the early surprise teams thus far. The back to back NFC South division champions have overcome a number of injuries to a number of starters but have continued to pull out victories led by a tough defense, opportunistic offense, and head coach Ron Rivera. Since taking over the head coaching position with the Panthers back in 2011, Rivera has led Carolina to two division titles, a playoff victory, and a record of 37 – 31 -1. Under Rivera the Panthers were the first repeat NFC South division winner since the realignment back in 2002.  They won their first division title back in 2013, the same year Rivera was named NFL Coach of the year. Rivera, who is the son of a U.S. Military officer, brings a lot of the same military discipline to the teams he coaches. His teams are disciplined as they are continually one of the least penalized teams in the NFL, and have a lot of structure as everyone knows who the leaders on the team are and who is running the show. Rivera’s calling card as a coach has been tough, aggressive defenses, which makes sense since his biggest coaching influences were Buddy Ryan and Jim Johnson. Rivera played under Ryan during his playing career in Chicago. Ryan was the architect of the famed “46 defense” that the 1985 Bears used to propel them to their Super Bowl XX victory over the Patriots. Rivera coached linebackers under Jim Johnson in Philadelphia, and picked up some of the aggressive and exotic blitz packages Johnson employed as the Eagles defensive coordinator. With 27 seasons of NFL experience (18 as a coach and 9 as a player) Ron Rivera has been a member of 18 playoff teams, eight conference champions, and two super bowl teams. Rivera, who was a second round pick of Chicago back in 1984, played his entire career as a Bear (1984 – 1992). He started his coaching career in Chicago as well as a Defensive Quality Control coach in 1997-98. Then in 1999 Andy Reid hired him to coach linebackers and that is where he was able to study and learn under Jim Johnson. In 2004 Rivera went back to Chicago to become the defensive coordinator under Lovie Smith. After helping Chicago reach the Super Bowl in 2005 Rivera’s next stop was San Diego to again coach the linebackers this time under Norv Turner. The following season he was named the defensive coordinator for the Chargers and almost immediately you saw the difference he made in that unit. In 2010 the Chargers had the top ranked defense in the league and finished in the top five of eleven different statistical defensive categories despite the fact they had no players named to the pro bowl that season. In 2011 he was named the head coach of the Panthers who were coming off a two win season. Right away Rivera set out to find his leaders/generals for both sides of the ball. With the first pick in 2011 they selected quarterback Cam Newton, and the following draft in 2012 they drafted linebacker Luke Kuechly. Both players would go on to win rookie of the year awards and both have been the type of leaders Rivera was seeking. They both are extensions of their head coach onto the field for their respective units. The Panthers are molded into the team Rivera wants which revolves around a tough physical defense, and an offense that will pound the ball with its rushing attack, and take shots downfield once they have the opposing defense geared up to stuff the run. They are well coached and tough minded individuals that take on the personality of their head coach. There is nothing flashy about the Panthers and that’s just fine by them, as the only thing that matters is recording victories on Sundays. Although Rivera won the NFL coach of the year award after the 2013 season, last season really displayed what type of coach and leader he is. The Panthers started the season facing adversity almost immediately as their All-Pro defensive end Greg Hardy was placed on the Commissioners exemption list, and was lost for the season. They started seven different offensive line combinations over a stretch of seven consecutive weeks. They had Cam Newton playing through ankle surgery, broken ribs, and a car accident. Even coach Rivera had to deal with off the field issues, as his house caught on fire and was burned down, causing him and his family to relocate as they prepped for a playoff game. Through all of that Carolina overcame a tough 3 – 8 – 1 start to the season and were able to reel off four straight victories to end the season and capture the division crown. The Panthers finished top ten in yards allowed on defense for the third straight season, joining San Francisco and Seattle as the only other teams to accomplish this feat. By winning their final four games of the season, Rivera improved his December record to 15 – 3, which is tied for the best mark since 2011. Rivera and his team picked up where they left off in 2015 so far, having started the season unbeaten at 6 – 0, they have won ten consecutive regular season games. During their hot start the Panthers have won games with some of their key starters missing. Defensive end Charles Johnson, linebacker Luke Kuechly, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, linebacker A.J. Klein, and defensive end Jared Allen all have missed single and multiple games. That’s not even including starting wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin who was lost for the season back during training camp. Benjamin was expected to be a huge part of the offense as he was coming off a terrific rookie season where he caught 73 balls for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. Throughout all the injuries and any off field distraction the one constant in Carolina has been Ron Rivera and his coaching staff. Having beaten some highly respected coaches like Sean Payton, Pete Carrol, and Chip Kelly during their undefeated start it is time Ron Rivera gets his due and is recognized as one of the best head coaches in the NFL. Danny Shimon is a graduate of Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp.  Follow Danny on Twitter @dshimon56
Danny Shimon
NFPost Scouting 101 & Scouting Seminar Graduate. Bears writer for www.windy-citysport.com

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