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Pro Bowl Week With USAA: Ron Rivera, Former Army Brat, Turned "Analytical" to Get to Hawaii

Ron Rivera at Pro Bowl Practice
This is part of our Pro Bowl Week coverage from Hawaii, courtesy of USAA, Official Military Appreciation sponsor of the NFL. After Team Rice practice, I caught up with head coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers for a few minutes.

Ron Rivera was a coach facing the pressure of needing to win or else as this year began. It ended with a trip to Hawaii to coach Team Rice in tonight’s Pro Bowl. His team had shown potential in two seasons, but often came up just short in key games. In 2011 and 2012, Carolina was 2-12 combined in all games decided by 7 points or less. (They were 11-7 in all other games). In both seasons, Carolina started 2-8 and were eliminated from contention before Thanksgiving, before going on late hot streaks. One more bad start, and December may not have been guaranteed.

Standing within a long Cam Newton throw of several C-17 transport planes waiting just beyond the practice field, Rivera had a special appreciation of being in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.

“I went yesterday to Joint Base Pearl Harbor, and we did a Play 60, which is a really neat thing. I was commenting how interesting it is to stand out here in the middle of a military base and look around and be reminded of what it was like to be a military brat. You know, you look around and see the orange roofs and the tan buildings and you feel like you are on a [military] base.”

Ron Rivera and a bum in a Hawaiian ShirtWhen I told Rivera I was here courtesy of USAA covering the event, he proudly paused and pulled out his wallet, producing his own USAA card. “You know that commercial, they talk about how they became members? I got mine because my dad served in the military.”

Rivera’s father was in the Army for thirty-two years, and Rivera spent the first eighteen years of his life as an Army brat, before he got a scholarship to play football at the University of California. “We were never stationed here, but we were stationed all over. My dad had us in Fort Gulick, Panama. We were in Heidelberg, Germany, Fort Meade, Maryland, Fort Lewis, Washington, and Fort Ord, California was our home base.”

To get here within view of those familiar orange roofs on a military base, Ron Rivera had to do something that had to be very difficult for someone who has been working in a profession for a long time–get introspective and change an approach. He at various times this year was given the name “Riverboat Ron” or “Analytical Ron” based on being far more aggressive on fourth down, particularly early in games.

I asked him if the past failures in close games, some of which came after key decisions where Carolina punted facing fourth and inches, played into his change and whether he thought about things like Atlanta’s drive to win after being pinned at the 1 in 2012.

“Yep, I did. I thought a lot about those things and really tried to figure out the best things I could do to help this team win football games. I know people want to refer to me as Riverboat Ron, but I do like the idea of Analytical. I really do try to think about this, it’s not wily nily, just throwing it out there. I’m trying to think of those situations. I think one thing it has shown to our guys, hey, you know, we’re going to do what it takes to win.”

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