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Ron Rivera looking forward to ‘sense of normalcy’ that 2020 NFL draft can bring fans

Coach Rivera spoke with SB Nation about getting ready for the 2020 draft and more.

NFL: Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s difficult enough for a head coach to take the reins of a new team, as Ron Rivera is doing in Washington. It’s even more difficult to manage that transition during a pandemic.

Rivera, like the rest of us, is just handling the distance as best he can.

“Well, probably the biggest thing we’re doing right now with our guys, we’re working with them doing virtual meetings,” Rivera said, “We’re connecting with them on Zoom and going through our installation in terms of preparing our players for when we do get to get together and do get to start practicing again.”

The draft, of course, will be completely different from every draft before it, with head coaches and team personnel setting up war rooms in their homes and preparing to conduct the draft virtually. Rivera shared a video of his setup via Twitter.

The video, which came into being because of Rivera’s partnership with USAA, was a family affair.

“Our daughter is with us,” Rivera said. “She moved in — she came up from from Charlotte and she actually took a job with with the organization as one of the IT producers. And she actually produced that video you guys saw.”

For the record, Rivera said the pancakes served up in the video by his wife, Stephanie, were delicious.

Rivera’s relying on lessons learned from his dad

Preparing for a virtual draft isn’t easy, but Rivera’s got a a great example of being flexible and dedicated to getting the job done regardless of the circumstances — his father, Eugenio Rivera, who served in the U.S. Army. That also led Rivera to partnering with USAA.

“My father was in the military for 32 years. He was a USAA member,” Rivera said. “He’s one of the way back original ones, and so you know, he’s been with them forever. And so I inherited in 1986. So this is kind of a natural for me to be able to do this. I think it’s kind of neat that they’ve given us a platform to be able to say thank you. And I really do appreciate that from USAA.”

His dad’s example may be helping Rivera navigate this process, but there are still elements of a traditional draft day Rivera will miss — specifically the team’s physical big board.

“Obviously we’re communicating through Zoom right now. And one of the things that you know that you miss is not having your your draft room with your “big boards,” where you have everybody stacked and listed and set up in order as to how you see them,” Rivera said. “So not having that big board deal when we talk about a player, you know, you have them up there and you can compare them to where you see them. That’s probably the biggest difference and and so everything else has been pretty good.”

He’s missing the physical big board, but he’s got plenty of other gear ready to go.

“If you look at what I have, I have a an 80’ screen and a 60’ screen. I’ve got a desktop, three laptops, I’ve got two hard line telephones, a speaker setup, and a printer, you know, just in case we need to do something with it,” Rivera said. “It’s pretty well organized. I thought the IT guys did a great job. I have things set up so that everything’s kind of in a linear alignment so that I can just look from left to right and get all the information I need.”

This isn’t Rivera’s first rodeo

While being in quarantine is different for all of us, adapting to a new team without being able to be with players physically isn’t new for Rivera. Rivera was hired as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers in 2011, when the league experienced a lockout pending the finalization of the last collective bargaining agreement.

“The reason why we’re doing these calls right now is to talk about my military upbringing and growing up on army bases and learning the importance of being prepared, being able to adapt and improvise,” Rivera said. I mean, those are, you know, just pretty much staples of military. And those are the things that that we did see when I was in Carolina in 2011. We had to adapt and adjust constantly.”

That experience makes Rivera feel better about the 2020 draft.

“I have a little bit of confidence that we can do a good job just because I’ve gone through it, I understand just what it takes us me to get these things done. So I just feel, you know, fortunate that I got a little experience with it,” Rivera said.

One quarantine puppy is enough for the Riveras

In addition to his work with USAA, the Riveras are passionate about animal rescue. They had a yard sale of Panthers items to benefit the Charlotte Humane Society before leaving Carolina, and they raised over $30k.

If Ron Rivera is anything like me, he has to be thinking about getting a quarantine puppy, right? His answer:

“We actually have one.”

The Riveras have two dogs, Tahoe and Sierra. Tahoe is a golden retriever, and Sierra is a terrier mix the Riveras adopted during the 2019 NFL season.

“So we’ve got the two of them. They’re just a couple of knuckleheads. They’re hilarious,” Rivera said.

Rivera has a message for Washington fans as we all go through these challenging times.

“You’ve got to continue to be safe and continue to listen to the experts, to the facts, and to science,” Rivera said. “I think that’s the biggest thing, where everybody’s trying to be safe. And it’s really one of those things that, if we all approach it the right way, and we do things the way we’re supposed to, we have a chance to beat this thing and then hopefully move forward and get back to normalcy.”

The most important thing right now is to stay focused on what matters most.

“Again, continue to be safe and continue to show our military, our medical personnel, our first responders, and our essential workers our support,” Rivera said.

Rivera, like the rest of us, is looking forward to any sense of normalcy we might gain from the draft.

“I think it’s kind of neat to be able to do what we’re doing on Thursday and that’s bring a little normalcy back to our fans and, and hopefully we can we can do a good job for everybody,” Rivera said.

For Rivera, who’s adapting to a new team, a new city, and dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic alongside the rest of us, that sense of normalcy should be welcome.

Jeanna Thomas is SB Nation’s Associate Director for NFL team brands. She has covered the Atlanta Falcons for The Falcoholic since 2010, and has covered the league as a whole for several years.