Ron Rivera's run as a head coach in the NFL
With the Panthers, Rivera's tenure started relatively slow, and the team won just 13 games in the first two seasons combined. Rivera was regularly harassed by the media for his conservative in-game decision-making, something that feels fitting for a gritty, former linebacker, defensive-minded coach. Nonetheless, Rivera took note of these comments, and became a more aggressive decision-maker in 2013, leading to the Panthers fanbase and football media, in general, gifting him the legendary nickname "Riverboat" Ron Rivera.
The Panthers benefitted from Rivera's new persona, with the Panthers finishing first in their division in 2013. Rivera, who finished the season with a Coach of the Year nod, was fortunate to coach some of the best players of the 2010s, including former Heisman winner and league MVP-winning quarterback Cam Newton, and one of the best linebackers in NFL history, Luke Kuechly.
It's hard to attribute 100% of the latter's success to Rivera's insight, coaching, and leadership, but the former linebacker certainly relayed some of the lessons he learned as a Bears player many years before Kuechly, as well as the Panther's defense in general.
In 2014, the Panthers again won their division despite winning just seven games, but the team would go on to have one of the best seasons in league history the following year. In 2015, Newton's MVP run helped the Panthers post a 15-1 record, winning the NFC in the regular season and becoming the conference's representative in the ensuing Super Bowl, where they, unfortunately, lost to Peyton Manning's Broncos in his final NFL season. Prior to the Super Bowl, Rivera was named Coach of the Year for the second time in three seasons.
The post-Super Bowl Panthers certainly had their struggles, and after just three seasons where they won the division once and posted a combined 24 wins, Rivera was on the hot seat entering the 2019 season. Unfortunately, Rivera would end up being fired during the 2019 campaign, but he wasn't without a coaching job for long, as he would become the head coach of the newly branded Washington Football Team in 2020.
In his first season, Rivera led the team to the playoffs after winning the NFC East, despite finishing the year with just seven wins. In 2021, Washington missed the playoffs after finishing with seven wins yet again. Just last season, Rivera and the newly named Washington Commanders improved their win total to eight, including a 12-7 Thursday Night football game against the Bears. Despite winning eight games, the Commanders missed the playoffs yet again, with all three other teams in the division making the postseason.
Rivera is currently preparing for his fourth season as Washington's head coach, and his 34th in the NFL, and based on their play in recent seasons without dominant quarterback play, there is a strong chance that the Commanders are a competitive team this season, and could certainly make the playoffs in the NFC. Rivera will get an opportunity to play against the Chicago Bears once again on October 5th, where the coach will get to take on his former team on Thursday Night Football.