Torrey Smith only played one season under Ron Rivera. It was the final stop of his eight-year career, and it was in a reduced role compared to ones he held in Baltimore, San Francisco and Philadelphia.
Smith played for numerous coaches prior to joining the Carolina Panthers, two of which he helped claim Super Bowl victories, but Rivera still stands out as one of the most unique.
"He's definitely one of my favorite coaches that I've ever had," Smith told senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson. "I tell people I'm better because I played for him."
That falls in line with how many players and coaches in the league view the Washington Commanders' head coach.
Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera made the rounds on Radio Row in the days leading up to Super Bowl LVI to the team's new identity and direction of the franchise as it ushers in a new chapter. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
Rivera's reputation as a well-respected coach was established long before he first arrived at Washington's facility in January of 2020. Aside from his success with the Panthers -- he turned the franchise into a Super Bowl contender five years after getting the job -- he was a successful defensive coordinator with three Top 10 finishes in points, yards and takeaways.
All of that adds to what Rivera brings as a coach, and it certainly doesn't hurt when trying to convince people that he can lead them to success. That's not necessarily what sticks out to Smith the most, though; instead, he points to Rivera's ability to connect with his players as one of his biggest strengths.
"He has a lot of advantages because he played," Smith said. "That's not one experience that you're going to go through that he hasn't seen or dealt with."
Rivera's track record as a players' coach was established quickly with the Commanders' roster, and it didn't take long for him to win over the players.
"The one thing I feel like with Coach Rivera is he's always going to shoot it to you straight -- as a player and as a team," said receiver Terry McLaurin. "You're going to know where you stand with him at all times, which provides a certain amount of clarity that I feel like is necessary in this business that we're in to know what you're doing well, what you're not doing well, what's expected of you and your role on this team."
There are many messages that Rivera often preaches, one of the most popular being "Don't draw me a map unless you've been there." It's a mantra that he lives by, and it's why Smith and other players hold Rivera in such high regard.
"I think that really helps when you're talking to somebody who's been there," Smith said. "Or he's doing something he knows is beneficial to you and to the team. Because he's been there as a player and as a coach."
It was clear from the start of Rivera's tenure in Washington that his players bought what he was selling, and that played a role in the team winning the NFC East in his first season while he was fighting a cancer diagnosis. His players got a look at that battle on a regular basis (he didn't miss a game while going through treatment), and it made them want to play for him even more.
"He always talks about strength, 60 minutes in a game, and then you can see when he was fighting [cancer] and what he was going through during training camp," said safety Kam Curl. "[He] just never quit because that's something hard to go through, especially when you're trying to run a football team."
The Commander' 2021 season under Rivera didn't go as planned, as they finished 7-10, but it wasn't because of a lack of belief in his philosophy. Injuries and COVID-19 cases helped bring any playoff hopes to a halt after a four-game win streak set the team up for another division crown.
Rivera still believes in his team, though, saying the 2022 offseason will be critical to his plans for the franchise.
"It's time I think that we see this team start to take that big step forward," Rivera said.
And Smith knows Rivera is the right person to take the Commanders down that path.
"There's no better man to lead a team."