Then came the most unusual season in NFL history.
"I don't think anything's been normal this year, I really don't," Rivera said ahead of the team's win-and-in game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night. "There's been a lot up in the air. We've dealt with them. We've tried to keep our heads above water more so than anything else. Everything coming down to this last week, I think it's really exciting."
But to understand Rivera's true impact, we asked players a simple question: What was the biggest thing they have learned from their head coach in Year 1?
DT Jonathan Allen
"I wouldn't say it would be something brand new that I learned from Coach Rivera specifically, but he reminds me a lot of [Alabama head] coach [Nick] Saban. A lot of the lessons I learned in college, he reinforces and he expects that and he demands that and he doesn't allow anything less than the standard. That's probably what I appreciate the most about Rivera being here."
RB Peyton Barber
"He's a great coach. He's a players' coach. And he lives up to his name: Riverboat Ron."
S Kamren Curl
"Probably just fighting. He always talks about strength, 60 minutes in a game, and then you can see when he was fighting [cancer] and what he was going through during training camp. [He] just never quit because that's something hard to go through, especially when you're trying to run a football team. So it's just like keep fighting. We were down in those games, and we came back. I feel like the whole team embraced that from him."
CB Ronald Darby
"He's passionate. He's real passionate about the team, about the sport, about the organization. He a real good coach. I love playing under him because he's going to also be straightforward. He's never going to beat around the bush. And he's just a standup guy."
LB Thomas Davis Sr.
"I was with Coach Rivera his first year in Carolina, we had a young team, and you see a lot of similarities. He had to really come in and instill his way of doing things the way he wanted the culture to be, and we got it turned around in Carolina pretty quickly, and those are some of the things that you're seeing right now. You're seeing guys that are really buying in to what he's teaching. You're seeing guys that are actually loving to come to work and loving to be around, and enjoy playing for this coach. And when you have that, you're going to have success, and I think the guys are definitely really enjoying playing for Coach Rivera, and it's starting to show on the field."
WR Terry McLaurin
"The one thing I feel like with Coach Rivera is he's always going to shoot it to you straight -- as a player and as a team. You're going to know where you stand with him at all times, which provides a certain amount of clarity that I feel like is necessary in this business that we're in to know what you're doing well, what you're not doing well, what's expected of you and your role on this team. So that's the No. 1 thing that stands out.
"And then just his confidence in this team and what we're building here and what he's trying to help us build here. I feel like we are really making some momentum, but at the same time he keep things realistic. He takes things a day at a time, a practice at a time, a game at a time, and we don't look too far ahead. And now that we've had a little bit of success recently, we're not going to look back and just hang our hat on what we've done. We've got to continue to get better."
S Jeremy Reaves
"Just to be ready. You never know when your opportunity is going to come, so you have to prepare every day as such. It's evident with me. You look at me, I was on the practice squad here for eight weeks. The eighth week I get brought up because Landon [Collins] goes down, I'm on special teams. Then after that...[Deshazor Everett] goes down, and now I jump into the role of starting. Just how you approach it is definitely something he's taught me because at any moment things can change."
C Chase Roullier
"I think one of the biggest things I've learned with Coach Rivera is consistency. I think he is an incredibly consistent coach, and that wears off onto all of us as players and us being able to be consistent in our offense, in the meeting room, out in practice -- wherever it may be. Just being able to put our heads down and being able to focus on what we need to focus on and being consistent in that. I think that's something that he's really preached and been able to pass along to us as a team just because that's in his character, and I really appreciate that about him."
WR Steven Sims Sr.
"I like Coach Ron. He's everything you want out of a head coach. He's a players' coach. He does for us. He wants the best for us, he protects our bodies, he makes sure we're 100%, we're ready to go, we know what the task is on Sundays and we go from there."
TE Logan Thomas
"What every day means. Not to look into the future, not to look to the past. Especially with what he went through, he was just present in the day. And I think if you take care of what happens today, then you can worry about tomorrow tomorrow, and I think that's what we took from him."
P Tress Way
"This man -- in any circumstance, in any situation that we have, whenever things were not looking good at the beginning of the year -- he has the ability to coach you as a person and coach your attitude and coach your approach to the game. His ability to convince us to control what we can control, it's so easy to get on board with this guy, man. That postgame conversation in the locker room -- we're all jacked up, we're all excited, we're about to go board the plane for a long flight home -- his ability to coach us into how we approach every day from here on out, I can just listen to that dude talk all day long. He does not talk all day long -- he's very short and to the point -- but that's something I've really come to appreciate and admire from him."
DE Chase Young
"He holds himself accountable, as well as everyone else on the team. He's a players' coach. He's somebody who makes you want to play for him. He's a fighter, he's a dude. He's a guy, man, he a dude. I love playing for him, everyone on the team loves playing for him, and we're gonna keep going."