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Ron Rivera: The Puerto Rican-Mexican NFL Coach Leading His Team to Historic Highs

Meet Ron Rivera, the head coach of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.

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Credit: Streeter Lecka / Getty

Born to a Puerto Rican father and Mexican-American mother, he’s currently the ONLY Latino head coach in the NFL.

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But he’s not the first – Tom Fears coached the New Orleans Saints between 1967–1970 and Tom Flores coached the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks between 1979 and 1994.

Rivera has guided the Carolina Panthers to an impressive 12-0 record this season.

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They’ve already clinched a playoff berth. If the Panthers win one more game, they’re guaranteed to lock down the best record in team history.

Players respect Rivera because he’s one of them: Rivera spent eight years playing linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

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Rivera also won a Super Bowl with the Bears in 1985.

READ: NFL Players are Now Practicing One of Soccer’s Oldest Rituals

Panthers players also credit Rivera’s calm and cool disposition for helping them get through the sharp ups and downs of an NFL season.

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Tight end Greg Olsen says Rivera knows how to strike a great balance in the locker room. He told the Charlotte Observer: “I think a lot of coaches are scared to do that so you always see their guard up, trying to prove that they’re in charge. Everyone knows he’s in charge. I think that’s his greatest strength. It’s obvious who the leader is, but he’s also an approachable, everyday, normal guy. And I think guys respond to that.”

Rivera says he learned it from his father, Eugenio, a 32-year veteran of the Armed Forces.
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“One thing my dad’s always told me about leadership is when all hell’s breaking loose, everyone’s looking at you to see how you’re handling it. If you’re frantic and out of control, they’re going to be frantic and out of control. If you’re calm, cool and collected and doing the right things, they’ll follow you,” said Rivera to the Charlotte Observer.

Rivera says he also draws inspiration from his older brother Mickey, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer earlier this year.

Rivera told ESPN: “Mickey never complained about it. He never sat there and said ‘Why me? Why me?'”

Rivera also says he’s proud to represent Latinos in the NFL.

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“I feel very fortunate that so many [Latinos] have embraced us, and have embraced me, for that matter. To be representative of my heritage, I’m thrilled about that,” said Rivera to Fox News Latino.

Rivera has already made history as the first Latino coach to win the AP NFL Coach of the Year Award.

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Rivera won the award in 2013, after guiding the Carolina Panthers to a 12-4 record. Just three years earlier – the season before Rivera was hired – the Panthers posted a dismal 2-14 record.

Now, he’s on a mission to write some more history – but not a perfect 16-0 season. He wants a Super Bowl victory.

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When asked if he’s hoping to finish with a 16-0 record, Rivera had a clear response: “If you’re talking about 16-0 seasons, you’re not focusing on the details you need to pay attention to.”

UPDATE: Rivera Takes the Panthers to Super Bowl 50.

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After 14 straight victories, the Carolina Panthers had their unbeaten streak broken by the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16 of the NFL. Rivera’s squad recovered the following week and went on to win their final game, finishing the regular season with a 15-1 record. In the playoffs, the Panthers dispatched the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals, setting up a showdown with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

“Riverboat Ron” told ESPN there’s still plenty of work to do: “It’s not about getting there. It’s not about being a part of it. It’s about winning it. And that will be our main focus.”

READ: The Son of Mexican Field Workers, Tom Flores Became the First Latino Coach to Win a Super Bowl

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