Washington's Ron Rivera says he has cancer, plans to continue coaching

Rivera cancer diagnosis is a lesson for everyone (0:54)

Zubin Mehenti, Jay Williams and Keyshawn Johnson react to the news that Washington coach Ron Rivera has been diagnosed with cancer. (0:54)

Washington coach Ron Rivera has been diagnosed with cancer but plans to continue coaching, he told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Thursday night.

Rivera was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma located in a lymph node, the team said in a statement. Rivera said the cancer is in the early stages and is considered "very treatable and curable."

He told his players about the diagnosis in a team meeting Thursday night. As of now, he said, nothing changes with his job.

"I'm planning to go on coaching," he told Schefter. "Doctors encouraged me to do it too. They said, 'If you feel strongly, do it. Don't slow down, do your physical activities.' But everyone keeps telling me by week three or four, you'll start feeling it."

According to the Mayo Clinic, squamous cell cancer is a form of skin cancer. It is usually not life-threatening but can spread throughout the body and cause serious complications.

Rivera said he has a Plan B in place, though he wasn't ready to divulge more information. Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has been a head coach for two teams -- the Jaguars (2003-11) and Raiders (2015-17). No one else on the staff has head-coaching experience in the NFL.

Rivera met with Del Rio, who filled in for John Fox when he had health issues in Denver, about plans for Del Rio to step in should Rivera have to leave the team during the week, sources told ESPN. If Rivera were to miss any time, however, it would likely be during the week and not on a game day, sources said. Rivera is also not in charge of any of the team's units, which allows for each side of the ball to have a level of continuity if he has to miss time during the week.

The 58-year-old Rivera has consulted with a number of doctors and specialists and established a treatment plan with the team and outside specialists that calls for Rivera to receive five treatments per week for seven weeks.

One player said Rivera was calm when discussing it and told them he would need a few months of treatment but that they shouldn't worry about him and it would not be a disruptive situation.

Rivera said he found a lump on his neck in early July, and when it didn't go away after a couple of weeks, he visited a doctor. He said he was told of the cancer two weeks ago.

"I was stunned," he said. "But I was angry because I feel like I'm in the best health I've been in."

Rivera has led Washington through a tumultuous offseason that featured numerous off-field issues, including the coronavirus pandemic, a team name change and a report detailing sexual harassment allegations in the organization.

But with practice beginning, Rivera had been upbeat because he could focus on football. The team started working in full pads Tuesday, and Rivera appeared to be his normal self during video conference interview sessions with the media.

Other times, though, Rivera clearly had other things on his mind.

"I've just been angry," he told Schefter. "The thing that I find out how many people that have gone through this. Outpatient therapy, proton therapy."

Rivera said he gathered the players in a big circle after their evening meeting so he could tell them in person.

"Some were stunned. A bunch came up and wished me well," Rivera said. "I said, 'I'm going to be a little more cranky, so don't piss me off.'"

Players have taken to Rivera, hired by owner Dan Snyder after the 2019 season.

"He's definitely a players' coach," defensive end Ryan Anderson said earlier in the day. "So far, I like him. I trust him. I'd run through a wall for him."

Rivera was buoyed by the support he said he has received from the organization and health care specialists.

"I'm going through the proper treatment," he said. "This will be fine."

Jason Wright, hired as Washington's new team president earlier this week, posted a tweet later Thursday in support of Rivera.

Rivera has been active with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network ever since his brother, Mickey, was diagnosed with the disease. He died two years later in 2015 but remained a source of inspiration for Rivera, who missed a few days in training camp to attend the funeral.

"The thing I shared with the players is that my brother Mickey made a total commitment," Rivera said at the time. "I have told the players how making a total commitment is so important."

A year after his brother's death, he shared what he had learned from the experience.

"That no matter what my situation and circumstances were, as long as I have my health I'm OK," Rivera said. "That's the biggest thing I learned from that."