Skip to main content

News | Washington Commanders -

How Walter Payton Helped Start Ron Rivera's Coaching Career

Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera surveys practice during training camp on July 28, 2021. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera surveys practice during training camp on July 28, 2021. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

Can anyone imagine Ron Rivera as a sideline reporter? As hard as it might be to fathom, that's the life one of the most respected head coaches in the league was leading after he retired as a player.

He might have stayed on that path, too, had it not been for a little help from Walter Payton.

It was 1996, and the Chicago Bears were playing the Dallas Cowboys at home to open the season. Rivera, an on-air analyst for WGN-TV and SportsChannel Chicago at the time, was watching the game with Payton.

After a while, Rivera leaned over to Payton and said, "I promise you right now, they'll come back out and they'll run that outside zone and try to make the corner tackle him. The corner's going to miss it and he'll gain 12 yards."

Sure enough, the Cowboys' next running play unfolded exactly as Rivera described it. Payton had one question for him: "Why aren't you coaching?"

Rivera said he didn't know how to get into the profession, to which Payton replied, "Come see me."

The next time Rivera saw Payton was in the Hall of Fame running back's office in Chicago. He told Rivera that he would talk to Bears chairman Ed McCaskey about the possibility of jumpstarting his coaching career. Payton was on the Bears' board of directors, so he and McCaskey met often.

Shortly after that meeting, Rivera received a call from Payton. "Mr. Ed would like to see," Payton told him. McCaskey said he couldn't make any promises that year, but he would speak to head coach Dave Wannstedt about a potential opportunity for Rivera once the season was over.

Wannstedt hired Rivera as a defensive quality control coach the following year. Two years later, he was coaching linebackers for the Philadelphia Eagles, followed by returning to the Bears for his first stint as a defensive coordinator. He got his first head coaching job with the Panthers seven years after that, and now he's in the second year of reshaping Washington's culture.

Although we missed out on Rivera's television career, it's hard to argue with the results of his current career, judging by the four playoff appearances and three straight division titles in nine seasons with the Panthers. He's off to a good start in Washington, leading it to a division title in his first year and has it set up to repeat in Year 2.

Needless to say, Rivera made the right decision. To hear more stories from Rivera and his assessment of Washington's season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers, tune in to "The Ron Rivera Show" every Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC4.

Related Content