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Ron Rivera: Buddy Ryan a 'tremendous teacher' and 'master sports psychologist'

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Ron Rivera: Buddy Ryan strived to make everyone better (3:18)

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera joins NFL Live to share what it was like to play for Buddy Ryan and the impact he had on Rivera's coaching career. (3:18)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was a rookie linebacker for the Chicago Bears in 1984 when he heard a rather distinct and forceful voice call for him from behind the secondary.

"Chico! Come here!" defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan yelled during practice.

Rivera, referred to by some as "Chico" because he was the first NFL player of Puerto Rican and Mexican decent, immediately ran to Ryan's side, not knowing if he was in trouble or not.

After a few minutes of somewhat awkward silence, Ryan began rattling off questions to see if Rivera understood what was happening with his complicated "46 defense" that a year later would help the Bears win Super Bowl XX.

"What's the defense?" Ryan asked.

"Pro Dallas," Rivera responded.

"Yes," Ryan said. "Why do you think I called that?"

"Well, you wanted to make sure we were able to get our hands on the tight end, it's good versus the run, it's good versus the pass," Rivera answered. "He said, 'Good, you're paying attention.'"

Rivera shared the story Tuesday after learning that Ryan, 85, had passed away. It spoke volumes to the genius of Ryan as a teacher and innovator.

"He was questioning me and teaching me all at the same time on why he was game planning certain ways for our opponents," Rivera said. "It was a great education to stand back there and learn from him.

"It taught me how to attack an opponent, how to attack the routes they run, how they run the ball. This was a great education on how to do certain things, and it's paid off for me personally later in my career."

Rivera, 54, went on to become the defensive coordinator of the Bears and San Diego Chargers before the Panthers made him a head coach in 2011. He gives a lot of the credit to Ryan.

Ryan's 46 defense was predicated around pressuring the quarterback. That is a big part of the 4-3 scheme that helped Rivera and the Panthers reach the Super Bowl this past season.

"He really was a tremendous teacher," said Rivera, the NFL Coach of the Year in 2013 and 2015. "He really captured you throughout your time with him and trying to figure out if you understood and knew football."

Rivera said Ryan also was a "master sports psychologist."

"One of the things that really stood out for me personally was the way he broke everybody down, tore everybody down and built them back up," Rivera said. "He tried to find your weakness. He tried to put you under pressure. And then he built you up. He did it his way to make you a better player."

Rivera doesn't use quite the same technique Ryan did, but he too has become a master motivator.

"Trying to find the hot button to push for our guys to get them motivated and get them going," Rivera said.

But Ryan's legacy, at least for Rivera, will be defense and how it influenced him and other teammates -- Mike Singletary, Jeff Fisher, Leslie Frazier -- who went into coaching.

The story of how a grizzly veteran coach took a rookie out of California under his wings spoke volumes to that.

"He was trying to figure out me, if I really understood the game and paid attention to the game, and he was going to teach me," Rivera said. "What that told me was he understood who I was and he was going to help me and challenge me."