Ron Rivera earns respect by listening

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- I keep reading as NFL teams fill head coaching positions that this coach will be better than the previous one because he's willing to yell at his players and take a stand. Or this coach is going to be better because he won't yell at his players -- or fans as reportedly was the case with The Detroit Lions' Jim Schwartz.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera has the right temperament.

He's stern with his players, but he's also willing to listen to what they have to say -- and more importantly act on it. It's a big reason he was able to keep the respect of his players when the Panthers were 1-3 after consecutive losing seasons, and a big reason they were able to rebound to finish 12-4 and win the NFC South.

Rivera is a player's coach through and through. He showed it again this week when he had dinner with left tackle Jordan Gross and a few other players in Charlotte to discuss ways he and the team could improve.

Yes, he asked players for input. He did the same thing a year ago after Carolina finished 7-9.

"I think last year it was written I had a difference with a couple of guys,'' Rivera said. "One of the things I learned from evaluating myself is you don’t see everything and hear everything and people don’t tell you what you need to hear sometimes. Last year, I asked them to open up and they did. It was very enlightening and it helped me.''

Rivera is reaping the benefits of improvement through self-evaluation. He already has been named the NFC Coach of the Year by NFL 101 Awards and the Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers Association.

He is a candidate for the Associated Press Coach of the Year Award that will be announced during the NFL Honors ceremony the night before the Feb. 2 Super Bowl in New York City.

"He's a player's coach," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn told me late this season. "That's key to it, man. He respects everybody and he will go to battle for all of us. If somebody is talking bad about us, he's always taking the blame.

"Like a couple of years ago, certain [losses] weren't his fault, but he was always taking the blame for it. He put that on his shoulders. I just respect that as a person and a man.''

Rivera does it in a soft-spoken manner for the most part. Ironically, he learned from one of the most well-known sideline yellers in NFL history in former Chicago coach Mike Ditka.

"Not everybody is built the same,'' said Rivera, who played and coached under Ditka. "My approach is to treat everybody the same and treat them the way I want to be treated. I don't like to say it out loud. I like to come up to the guy and say it, man to man, eye to eye, as opposed to just out and screaming.''

In the end, whether you yell or don't, it's about respect.

Rivera has that.