In the final article of Hispanic Heritage Month 2023, we will discuss the Washington Commander’s head coach. Ron Rivera is the only current Hispanic head coach in the NFL this year. That has been the case for many years for Rivera. He was accompanied by Brian Flores for a few short seasons, but other than that, it was just him. It’s not surprising; there have only been four Hispanic head coaches in the history of the league. The shortlist is completed by Tom Fears and Tom Flores, both of whom were head coaches in the league far before his time.

Riverboat Ron’s Story

Ronald Eugene Rivera’s story begins in 1962 in Fort Ord, California. His father, Eugenio, was of Puerto Rican descent and was stationed in California in the US Army.

While located in Cali, Eugenio met Ron’s mom, Dolores, who was of Mexican descent. The US Army moved the family around quite a bit. As a result, Riverboat Ron got to do school in Germany, Panama, and the country’s capital.

It may be difficult to picture the head coach as a player, but he was. He got a scholarship with the Golden Bears as a linebacker. Something other than a fullback or halfback. Progress!

Ron Rivera was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the second round of the 1984 draft as a linebacker and special teamer. He was a decent player who stayed on the same team for nine seasons.

He was the first Puerto Rican to win the Super Bowl in 1985 and was the team’s Man of the Year in 1988.

After hanging up the cleats, Riverboat Ron tried his hand at broadcasting for the Bears and college ball. Coaching suited Rivera better. He started his career as a defensive quality control coach for the Chicago Bears in 1997 and has been coaching ever since.

He has been the head coach of the league since 2011. His first nine seasons were with the Carolina Panthers, and he joined the Washington Commanders as HC in 2020. One of Rivera’s claims to fame as head coach is to lead a team with a losing record to the playoffs twice. A unique type of win.

As most fans will remember, the beginning of Ron’s juncture as head coach of the Commanders was eclipsed by his cancer diagnosis. He was very low-key about his squamous cell carcinoma diagnosis, but support rallied around him when he did share the news.

The head coach has had seven weeks of cancer treatment while never missing a single game and only sitting out three practices. His ability to push through things and Alex Smith’s heartwarming comeback lifted the spirits of the team and NFL fans as a whole in 2020.

Ron Rivera the Role Model

In an interview with Brandy Flores of DC News Now, Riverboat Ron talks about being a role model as the lone Hispanic head coach in the league.

When asked by Ms. Flores about the importance of celebrating culture, Ron Rivera said:

“I think to bring a little pride to our community, to the Hispanic community, just because of the fact that it shows that, hey, you’re capable of anything. It doesn’t matter where you come from, doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is, it just matters that when you get the opportunity to make the most of it, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Ron Rivera's mentor, Tom Flores

Tom Flores’ accepting LULAC‘s National Trailblazer Award in 2017 – André Chung/NBC News

Ron Rivera proceeds to point out the importance of having other Latinos to connect with in the NFL space, saying he can reach out to former trailblazers like Tom Flores when he runs into an obstacle.

Brandy asked Ron: “People look up to you because you’re successful in the NFL and because of your Hispanic heritage, why is that important to you, that not just because of your skill, but who you are as a person, people like to celebrate you?”

Rivera’s response shows just how important he sees his role in the league:

“Well, I think it’s important because it’s a role that I’ve accepted. That I am a role model, I am somebody that people can sit there and find inspiration from, and that’s important. So I try to make sure I do things the right way. I try to make sure that when I do, you know, do things it is done with the attitude and the thought that you know, somebody like me will come and want to be like me.”

Ron Rivera finishes the interview by pointing out specific initiatives that the NFL is doing to promote diversity, such as the Play 60 program and the flag football program. He then proceeds to leave us with this particularly inspirational quote:

“One thing that I’ve learned in my position is that when you create opportunities for everybody, it doesn’t matter, gender or race, you’re opening up that pool of candidates and you’re gonna find the best possible candidate and that’s really important.”

Ron Rivera Supporting Diversity in Staff

The Washington Commanders currently have the most Latino coaches in the league, including Ron Rivera.

In his aforementioned interview with Brandy Flores, he mentions that the commanders are very supportive and have allowed him to hire as he sees fit. This includes the other Hispanic coaches on the team and other diverse individuals based on both gender and race.

Rivera’s nephew is the current assistant linebackers coach for Washington. Don’t think the position was handed to him, though.

Ron Rivera said, “I told him, you’re going to do it like I did. You’re going to start at the bottom up, and so he started actually in the equipment room.” Vincent also has a background in playing football and has slowly ascended the ranks of coaching staff with the Carolina Panthers and the Washington Commanders. His hard work speaks for itself.

Juan Castillo is the current run-game coordinator and was also brought into Washington by Ron Rivera. Castillo is a first-generation Mexican-American who worked incredibly hard to get where he is today. He spent years living in his car. The run game coordinator was initially brought in by the then head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Andy Reid.

Ron Rivera's coaching

Juan Castillo – Baltimore Ravens

He met Ron Rivera in Philadelphia, starting the men’s relationship and Rivera’s respect for Castillo’s work ethic. Ron is the godfather of Juan’s son. The experience of getting up at 5 AM every morning during the season and off to study football together was a true bonding experience for the coaches.

The final member of the Hispanic coaching staff is Cristian Garcia, the defensive back and nickels coach.

Maybe the NFL should hire Rivera to promote diversity in the NFL as a whole. The league’s ability to progress in this area is subpar at best and could use a helping hand for what feels like a simple task.

Thank you for all you do, Ron Rivera! Your unique role as the lone Hispanic head coach provides such important representation for current coaches, players in the league, and young people. It cannot be easy to be the only Hispanic head coach, and we appreciate your sacrifice and hard work.

Ron Rivera's coaching staff

Former Gator, Cristian Garcia, joins Ron Rivera’s coaching staff (Photo courtesy of Florida Gators Football).

All Hispanic Heritage Month 2023 articles can be found here.