Ron Rivera has been named the 2013 NFL Coach of the Year after being on the verge of losing his job in mid-October. He joins Dom Capers (1996) as the second Panthers head coach to win the award.
Since Rivera took over as the Panthers' fourth head coach in 2011, Carolina has steadily improved. He got his best results yet in 2013, with his team posting a 12-4 record and grabbing its first NFC South title since 2008.
The Panthers opened the season 1-3 and there were rumors swirling that they had begun the process of finding a replacement head coach. Instead, they stuck with Rivera and then went on a tear, winning 10 of their last 11 games. A change in philosophy by Rivera -- he'd been considered a conservative coach during his time in charge of Carolina -- led to the remarkable turnaround.
Rivera also was given the nickname "Riverboat Ron" after his more aggressive play-calling decisions helped spur on the Panthers' resurgence. The coach apparently wasn't a fan of the moniker despite the fact this rather catchy song was created to honor it. At least it worked out well for him and the team.
Rivera played nine seasons in the NFL with the Chicago Bears from 1982 to 1994. He collected nine interceptions and 7.5 sacks during his career as a linebacker. Rivera was also a member of the Super Bowl XX championship team. He wasted little time becoming a coach, as he joined the team as a defensive assistant in 1996 after a short stint in broadcasting.
He was hired by fellow 2013 Coach of the Year nominee Andy Reid and the Eagles in 1999 and was the linebackers coach for the team until 2003. As a defensive assistant, Rivera helped Reid's teams make three consecutive visits to the NFC Championship game and helped mold Jeremiah Trotter into a perennial Pro Bowl player.
Rivera's success in Philadelphia allowed him to come back to Chicago, where he was hired as the defensive coordinator under Lovie Smith. His 2004 squad ranked 2nd in the league in 2004 but stumbled the following year. After his contract was not renewed in Chicago, he joined the Chargers as an inside linebackers coach in 2007.
He was eventually promoted to defensive coordinator with San Diego in 2008 and stayed with the Chargers until 2010. Rivera left the job to take over for John Fox as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers in 2011. He currently boasts a 25-23 regular season record and one division title in this three-year tenure as head coach. This season was Rivera's first with a winning record.
The largest difference in the team may have been the hiring of offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who took over for Rob Chudzinski. Chudzinski was hired by the Browns to be their head coach, but was fired after just one season. Also, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott helped lead his unit to a top-four ranking in the NFL.