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Redskins Coaches Remember Their Time Playing For Ron Rivera

Carolina Panthers guard Travelle Wharton (70) lines up in a two-point stance during an NFL game against the Indianapolis Colts on November 27, 2011. The Panthers defeated the Colts 27-19. (AP Photo/Kevin Terrell) Chicago Bears safety Chris Harris follows the action against the New Orleans Saints during the NFC Championship football game, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2007, in Chicago. The Indianapolis Colts face the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI in Miami on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2007. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Ron Rivera's new coaching staff is full of familiar faces from his career.

Most of them have some sort of connection to his time with the Carolina Panthers. Not long after he was officially hired by the Redskins in January, Rivera brought coaches like John Matsko and Pete Hoener, both of whom worked with him for large chunks of their careers in Carolina.

Rivera also reached into his network of former players, which is how defensive backs coach Chris Harris and assistant offensive line coach Travelle Wharton found their way onto his staff. Neither of them have any prior history coaching with Rivera, but they do have the unique experience of playing for him.

"People throw out the term 'player's coach' all the time, but he was definitely one of those guys," Harris said during an interview for the video series, "The Staff That Ron Built" on "He made you want to play for him."

Harris' relationship with Rivera goes all the way back to 2005 when the Chicago Bears drafted him in the sixth round. Rivera was entering his second year as a first-time defensive coordinator, and Harris, who had spent four years at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, and his 14 career interceptions stuck out to him.

Their time together was brief -- he was only with the Bears for two seasons before he was traded -- but Harris did enough to impress Rivera. He became the team's starting free safety in his rookie year, and one year later, he grabbed the only postseason interception of his career against Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLI.

"That was probably the biggest moment of my career," Harris said.

It also didn't take long for Harris to realize that Rivera was a different kind of coach.

"He was always for the players," Harris said. "He always had your best interest, always had your back and he was always motivating."

Rivera left the Bears after their Super Bowl loss to be the defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers. Three years later, he got his first opportunity to be an NFL head coach with the Panthers, where Wharton had been playing since he was drafted in 2004.

Once again, it didn't take long for Rivera to make an impression.

"He's very direct. There's no grey area," Wharton said during his interview for "The Staff That Ron Built." "You come in to work [thinking] this is what we're gonna do, we're gonna come in and work, get our work done."

Wharton was a reliable player in Rivera's first season with the Panthers. A third-round pick in 2004, Wharton started in all 16 games and blocked No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton during the 2011 season.

Wharton signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012, but that stint was short-lived, as a knee injury forced him onto Injured Reserve. Rivera and the Panthers brought him back in 2013 for what was ultimately his final season before retirement.

During both of his experiences playing for Rivera, one aspect of the head coach that always stood out was how available he was for his players. That is a quality Rivera still has with Wharton now on his staff.

"He's very hands-on," he said. "You have a question, his door is always open, so it's been great for me."

Perhaps Harris and Wharton didn't get much attention as some of the other, more recognizable coaches like defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio or quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, but that doesn't matter as much to Rivera. They know how he wants to run his new team, which is far more important to them.

"What I have to have is great teachers," Rivera said at his introductory press conference on Jan. 2. "We want to teach these guys how to play football to the best of their abilities, to the best of our abilities and also to be good, quality men off the field."

Although they only had limited time with Rivera, Harris and Wharton showed enough to convince him that they fit that description. It's been years since they played for him, but it's clear their impressions of Rivera are still strong.

"I would run through a wall for Coach Rivera," Harris said. "That's the kind of person he was."