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Q+A Regarding Cal Coaching Candidate: Ron Rivera

We reached out to the SB Nation sites Bolts from the Blue (San Diego Chargers where Rivera was a coach) and Cat Scratch Reader (Carolina Panthers where Rivera is the current head coach) and they were gracious enough to answer our questions about prospective Cal Football head coaching candidate Ron Rivera.


1. What quality impresses you the most about Rivera?

Bolts from the Blue: When Ron came to San Diego, he was the Defensive Coordinator of the Bears and took a demotion to Linebackers Coach because it put him in the best position to learn about the 3-4 Defense (which he felt was "the next big thing" in the NFL). That always impressed me because it's the opposite of most coaches, who are clutching to their current playbook until the day that they die.

I saw some of that same intelligence in Rivera's gameplanning. Each game seemed to have a different goal that would typically work to take away the most effective part of the opposing offense.

Cat Scratch Reader: His straightforward approach to dealing with the media/public. I might not always agree with his take on a game, or a personnel decision, but I appreciate his manner of being forthright, and putting his opinion out there. You'll never have a grey area with Rivera.

2. What quality disappoints you the most about Rivera?

Bolts from the Blue: Like most Defensive Coordinators, Ron tended to be aggressive at the wrong time. He would play tons of zone coverage and refuse to blitz if his team was trailing or had a lead late in games. The only time he called for big blitzes were when the team had built up a good lead early in the game. This lead to his defenses being good but never dominating, and they had/have a tendency to let the other team back in the game.

Cat Scratch Reader: As a head coach he's not assertive enough. I think he has the qualities needed, but seems far too passive in dealing with his coordinators. This has caused a situation where his team is drowning, and as an outsider looking in, he seems unwilling to get the ship back on the right course.

3. Do you have any thought as to how Rivera might be able to recruit?

Bolts from the Blue: He's a personable, likable guy with the NFL pedigree and a track record of hard work. That should be enough to make him good, right?

Cat Scratch Reader: Being a former player will help. It's that quality which resonates with the current Panthers. Outside of that, it's hard to really tell.

4. What was Rivera's biggest moment as your coordinator/ Coach?

Bolts from the Blue: There are two that stick out to me.

The first was a bit of a surprise. Four games into his first full season as Defensive Coordinator, Rivera's defense got embarrassed by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not only did Rivera call every defensive player over to him to rip into them on the sidelines (a rare scene from a usually mild-mannered man), he quizzed them on their knowledge of the playbook the next day and benched players that didn't know enough.

Later that season, facing a 5-3 Eagles team that looked powerful on offense, Rivera decided to give the Eagles any and all 10-15 yard passes they wanted. He believed that they couldn't score without the deep pass (meaning that they couldn't score TDs in the red zone either) and he was right. The Eagles traded FGs for TDs until the Chargers held a 28-9 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Even Ron switching to a soft zone couldn't bring Philly all the way back from that.

Cat Scratch Reader: Having the guts to start Cam Newton out of the gate was probably his biggest decision. We're still waiting to see how that plays out, but overall it took a lot of guts to saddle his first head coaching gig to a quarterback so mechanically raw. Rivera has stood by Newton all the time, and never blamed him for the team's woes.

5. What convinces you the most that Rivera would be a good head coach? What would be your biggest concern?

Bolts from the Blue: I'm not sure that he is or would be a good head coach. He seems to have an eye for coaching talent, and he makes a good defensive gameplan, but his time with the Panthers makes me wonder how he'd be able to motivate young players. That's something that he struggled with a bit in San Diego as well, leaning on veterans after nearly discarding the young starters he was handed.

Cat Scratch Reader: I think he's a natural leader. He has the inside knowledge that causes players to believe. However, the biggest concern is how disposable he treats players (with the exception of Newton) when things aren't going well. He pulls plugs on players erratically, giving some far too much time, and others far too little.

Ron Rivera - Training Camp Interview (via nflpanthersO7)

6. Rivera seems to be a great defensive coach, and every team he has been a DC for has had a dominant defense. However, he has has struggled as a head coach in his 2 seasons at Carolina. Is this guy a good fit for the executive role being a head coach entails? Or is he much more effective as a coordinator?

Bolts from the Blue: As I mentioned, his greatest gift seems to be to study and create a good gameplan heading into matchups. That's something that most Head Coaches stay away from, and Ron probably suffers because of that. I think he has the characteristics to be a good head coach, but it's impossible to tell whether or not that can or will translate at this point.

Cat Scratch Reader: The comparison to Wade Phillips has been made a lot among our fanbase. At this point there's a very real concern he's an amazing coordinator, but doesn't have the ability to lead an entire organization. He learned to head coach from Norv Turner, and it shows.

7. Would Rivera run a 4-3 or 3-4 defense if he were to come to Cal?

Bolts from the Blue: Probably a hybrid of both, depending on the personnel. He tends to switch to the more "normal" 4-2-5 Nickel setup when facing obvious passing situations instead of staying 3-3-5.

Cat Scratch Reader: He can run either. In Carolina we run a base 4-3, but he has incorporated a lot of 3-4 looks.

8. Cal needs a coach who demands accountability amongst his players. Would this fit with Rivera's coaching style? There is no way the Bears will win next year if they continue with the penalties, off the field issues, and poor academics.

Bolts from the Blue: I think so. Ron always struck me as someone that valued character and as someone that could demand accountability. Obviously, that comes a little easier when dealing with college students than it does NFL players, which would only work to help him.

Cat Scratch Reader: Yes. To this end he will be an absolute disciplinarian. We've seen him bench players for fumbles, sometimes for weeks on end, and hold players to a high standard off the field.

9. Have you had any personal interactions with Rivera? If so, how did they go?

Bolts from the Blue: Just a quick handshake and hello. It went well!

Cat Scratch Reader: No, I haven't.

10. Tell us one story that defines Rivera's character

Bolts from the Blue: I honestly don't have any. I was always fond of this story about how Rivera earned/learned his way up the ladder in the NFL. However, in San Diego, his character was mostly kept hidden.

Cat Scratch Reader: Third string running back Mike Goodson (now with Oakland) has a bad case of fumble-itis, he's had it his entire career. After fumbling against the New York Giants in Rivera's second preseason game, he made Goodson hold onto the ball all day in training camp, and put a bounty on his players knocking it out of his hands. If a player knocked it out, Goodson had to buy them dinner, if Goodson held onto it, then Rivera would take Goodson out. This sums up his no-nonsense approach.

Thanks again to the fine folks at both Bolts from the Blue and Cat Scratch Reader for taking the time to answer our questions! And if you want to know even more about Ron Rivera and his time at Cal you can check out his profile from the finals of the California Golden Blogs Hall of Fame vote from this summer!