The Carolina Panthers stormed through the 2015 regular season, finishing as the top seed in the NFC. They’ve now won three straight NFC South titles under head coach Ron Rivera, who has changed the Panthers as a franchise. Rivera took over in 2011 on the heels of a 2-14 season, and along with his first draft pick Cam Newton, he has turned the Panthers into an annual contender.
Rivera is an NFL veteran, but is relatively new to coaching. He’s only been an NFL coach since 1999, making him the second-most experienced head coach in his family. The leader would be Stephanie Rivera, who has coached at every level of women’s basketball. She’s been by Ron’s side through his entire professional football career, dating back to him being drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1984.
Here’s what you need to know about Stephanie Rivera:
1. The Couple Started Dating After Playing Pickup Hoops
Ron and Stephanie first noticed each other at a popular frozen yogurt hangout near the campus of Cal University. Ron was a senior, and Stephanie was a sophomore point guard for the basketball team. They were each with different groups of friends, and they ended up challenging each other to a few pick-up games. The two groups met for hoops for three straight days, and it wasn’t until that third day that Ron finally asked Stephanie on a date. Four months later, he proposed.
In the year that followed, Ron would be drafted and win Super Bowl 20 as a member of the Chicago Bears, he and Stephanie would be married, and Stephanie would give birth to the couple’s first son, Christopher.
2. Stephanie Has Coached Basketball at Every Level
Stephanie was an above average point guard, but tore her ACL during her freshmen year at Cal. It didn’t help her playing career but according to Stephanie, it fast-tracked her coaching career. She rose as high as an assistant coach with the Washington Mystics in 2000, right as her husband’s NFL coaching career began.
After missing her entire family for a summer while coaching the Mystics, Rivera had enough. She conceded that in her profession, she would never make as much money as her husband. She briefly coached at her daughter’s high school in San Diego, but is now satisfied with her role in the Panthers organization.
3. The Rivera’s House Nearly Burned Down in 2015
Last January, tragedy nearly struck the Riveras when a fire tore through their modular home. Firefighters would later discover a missing plate in the fireplace that started the blaze, but not before over $500,000 in damages was done to the Rivera’s home. The family was out of their house for eight months during the repairs, temporarily living in the former home of ex-Panther Jordan Gross.
Ron had his two brothers and their spouses staying over that night, as the Panthers faced a playoff meeting with the Cardinals that weekend. They awoke to a house filled with smoke, but were unable to locate the source of the fire. Rivera, who is known to be safety-conscious, got his entire family out of the house inside of 10 minutes. Rivera said it took 60 firefighters to extinguish the flames.
4. Stephanie is Described as ‘The Coach Behind the Coach’
Stephanie was a coach of elite athletes long before Ron, who got his start with his son’s youth football team. Stephanie also has a degree in psychology, allowing her to better relate with players.
In interviews, Stephanie has said that her coaching experience helps her relationship. She is able to talk like any other assistant coach, and has no problem giving feedback. It’s a change from other coach wives like Kiya Tomlin, who makes her husband Mike abandon his football worries when he gets home.
5. Ron & Stephanie Have Worked With Multiple Charities Since Coming to the Charlotte Area
Since moving to North Carolina in 2011, the Riveras have been an active member of the community. One of their favorite things to do is give back, and the family assists with fundraising efforts year-round. They are very active raising money to fight pancreatic cancer, which claimed Rivera’s brother Mickey in 2015.
Ron and Stephanie are also big animal lovers. The Humane Society of Charlotte recently honored Stephanie for her and her husband’s fundraising efforts. The couple organized creative fundraising efforts including a Panthers recipe book and calendar, which combined raised over $60,000 for the Humane Society.