In 1999, Ron Rivera left his job as the defensive quality control coach with the Bears to come to Philadelphia. He was hired by new head coach Andy Reid, who was assembling his first NFL staff. Fourteen years later, that coaching staff reads like a who's who of some of the biggest names in coaching.
John Harbaugh, Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier, Pat Shurmur, Steve Spagnuolo and Rivera were all young coaches on Reid's first squad. All six are still in the league, and all six are either current head coaches or have held that title in the league since leaving Philadelphia.
On Monday night, Rivera will return to Philadelphia for the first time as a head coach, bringing his Carolina Panthers to Lincoln Financial Field for the primetime matchup. For Rivera, this game isn't just about winning – it's about squaring off against his mentor.
"Any time you play against someone you've looked up to and tried to model yourself after, you most certainly want to do well," Rivera said in a conference call with Philadelphia reporters. "Because you want to show them that you've done a good job and you've taken what he's taught you over the years you're with them and you're trying to use them and emulate him."
So far, both the Eagles' and Panthers' seasons have emulated one another. Both teams started the year with high expectations, only to find themselves struggling with below .500 records. Both have also dealt with distractions. Having spent five years in Philadelphia, Rivera understands the passion of the Eagles' fanbase.
Rivera helped lay the foundation for the team's early success under Reid. He was a part of the staff that reached the NFC Championship Game from 2001-03.
"Unfortunately we lost, and it was devastating because the fans get into it," Rivera said. "They're so passionate about their teams and their sports and it's hard. It's hard on the coaches, it's hard on the players and I know it's hard on the fans because the city really loves their teams."
Rivera's return to Philadelphia is not the only homecoming. Former defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who succeeded the late Jim Johnson, now holds the same position on Rivera's staff.
"He works so hard, he has great rapport with his players," Rivera said of McDermott. "I know his players are buying in to what he's preaching. I'm pretty excited about that for him."
When Rivera returns to Philadelphia, he said, the thing he'll remember most is how much he loved living in the area. He and his wife, Stephanie, made their home in South Jersey, and he still has family in the area. But once he arrives for the game it becomes a business trip. And Rivera will be looking to make his former boss proud, even if it's at the Eagles' expense.
"Believe me, any time I've had to coach against Coach Reid's team, I've always felt that way, that, 'Hey, this is one of my mentors. This is someone I truly have a tremendous amount of respect and love and fondness for,'" Rivera said. "So I do, I take it as a little bit of a challenge, a little bit of incentive."
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