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USA TODAY
Jarrett Bell, jbell@usatoday.com, USA TODAY Sports

The voice boomed from the back of the auditorium, without apology.

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was worked up during a question-and-answer session Saturday during the NFL's career development symposium at the Wharton School of Business.

The room was filled with roughly 100 prospective coaches and general managers, hearing all about a favored theme now flowing from league headquarters -- respect in the workplace.

One young assistant coach fashioned a question referencing a traditional culture in football that held the locker room as strictly the domain of players.

Rivera cut loose.

"Bull(expletive)!" Rivera said. "That locker room is our locker room."

Rivera -- who earned NFL Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Panthers to the NFC South crown in 2013 -- once had the same view that coaches didn't need to go into the locker room.

Now he considers such reluctance as his biggest mistake during his first two years. He says he was unaware of some locker room issues that festered.

"I didn't know because I wasn't there," he told the audience. "It opened my eyes. I have a vested interest to be in there."

Rivera played for one coach during his nine seasons as an NFL linebacker, Mike Ditka, who rarely came into the locker room and left it to the players to police themselves. He told USA TODAY Sports chats with former coaches John Madden and Bill Parcells changed his perspective.

Typically, Rivera said, the Panthers locker room gets a lot quieter when he visits. He has urged general manager Dave Gettleman to make such rounds, too, and joked the locker room chatter decreases even more when the GM passes through.

The point, though, is clear -- especially after the culture of the Miami Dolphins locker room last season contributed to the saga that revolved around Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito.

One of the enduring lessons from the Dolphins scandal was coach Joe Philbin wasn't prone to visit his locker room, then contended he was clueless about the allegations of bullying.

Rivera alluded to that when recalling a meeting with the NFL Players Association.

"The first thing they did was throw the head coach under the bus," Rivera said.

Philbin also signed off on a "leadership council" that included Incognito and center Mike Pouncey, both implicated in the bullying situation. Martin, who told investigators he had contemplated suicide, left the Dolphins in despair in October.

That worst-case scenario is one reason it is unwise to harbor a policy in which players choose captains or leadership councils without the coach's approval.

"If there's a situation that you know is going to fail, you have to get back to the principle, 'What's best for the football team,'" Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, a panelist for the workplace session, told the audience.

"If you have a fear of addressing that, then you probably shouldn't be a head coach."

The job of the coach isn't what it used to be. That notion hit home when St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who wasn't at the symposium, was mentioned.

Fisher estimated recently that when he began coaching he spent 80% of his time on X's and O's and 20% in dealing with the culture of his team.

Now the numbers are reversed.

It's no wonder that Reid opened the session with an acknowledgment. "It's a unique workplace," he said.

Indeed it is.

 

June 2, 2014

 

 
 

 

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