Jets-Panthers preview: Rivera gets to face another Ryan brother

jjones@charlotteobserver.comDecember 14, 2013 

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The Panthers faced defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and the New Orleans Saints last week. This week, they go up against Rob’s twin Rex Ryan, head coach of the New York Jets.

TOM SZCZERBOWSKI — Getty Images

For the second consecutive week, Ron Rivera will be across the field from a Ryan brother with whom he once shared a sideline.

The Carolina Panthers coach played for the Chicago Bears in the mid-1980s when Buddy Ryan was the defensive coordinator. His twin sons, Rex and Rob, would hang around training camp, and when the ’85 Bears went to the Super Bowl, they were on the sideline with Rivera.

A week after Rivera coached against Rob, who’s the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints, he’ll match minds with Rex, the fifth-year head coach of the Jets.

“I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Ron,” Rex said this week on a teleconference. “He’s a tremendous coach and I go way back to when he was playing for my dad and things, but I never knew him that well, but obviously I’ve followed him through his career. He’s a tremendous coach and I love the way his players play.

“They play hard as heck for him and I think that’s the sign of a good coach. Obviously, you look at what he’s done in this league defensively, it’s something that I’ve always respected as well.”

Rex and Rob were in college when their father coached Rivera for two seasons before taking the head coaching job with the Eagles, so they didn’t get to know Rivera that well. But Rivera was very close with Buddy and was taken under the coordinator’s wing in his first two seasons.

Rivera fondly recalls a moment in practice when Buddy called him over to diagnose and call the plays. As the backup middle linebacker, Rivera stood with Buddy, who would ask him what formation the defense should be in and why.

“What’s the call?” Buddy would ask Rivera.

“Blitz to formation,” Rivera replied.

“OK, what’s the blitz?” Buddy asked.

From there, it could be the ‘Cheeseburger blitz’ for linebacker Al Harris, or it could be the ‘Samurai blitz’ for linebacker Mike Singletary.

“He’d say, ‘Good, good, you’re getting it,’” Rivera said. “That’s how he taught me. When he’d get in front of the team or defenses he’d tell us why we were playing the defenses. To me it wasn’t just, hey, we’re going to play this, (it was) this is why we’re going to play this. That was kind of the thing that he always did.”

Rivera was also one of the handful of players who couldn’t take naps during film session. He and three others sat in the film room with Buddy and the projector, and sometimes Rivera would be tasked with leaving the room to wake up some of his teammates to come watch.

Rivera was a second-round pick in 1984 after the Bears took linebacker Wilber Marshall with their first-round pick. But Rob remembers his father taking to Rivera more than Marshall because of his football acumen.

“He was so smart, he knew the game, great instincts, all that,” Rex said. “He never needed reps. That’s something that is tough to find is a guy you can plug in even without practice and he can go in and play multiple positions. But that was something about him, his versatility.

“Obviously, he’s a tough guy and was a physical player, which my dad always appreciated. But it was more his brains than brawn that really impressed my dad.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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