ASHBURN, Va. (DC News Now) – For Washington Commanders head coach, Ron Rivera, loyalty and hard work are engrained into his coaching style.
Growing up surrounded by Puerto Rican and Mexican cultures, these concepts are a huge part of what makes Rivera who he is.
“One of the things that I’ve always learned is that you keep those people close in your life. As I started coaching, I always wanted to keep the people that I work with close to me,” he said. “It’s hard work, you learn that very quickly.”
Ron Rivera is the only Latino head coach in the NFL, and including him, Washington has the most Latino full-time coaches on staff with a total of four.
One of them, Vincent Rivera, is the nephew of the head coach. Vincent Rivera, like his tio (uncle) played football for the University of California. After his playing career, Vincent Rivera approached Ron Rivera as he was interested in coaching, back when Ron Rivera was the head coach of the Carolina Panthers.
In true Latino fashion, Ron Rivera was not just going to hand anything to his nephew, especially not a coaching position or glamourous job with the organization.
“He said, ‘all right, come out and we’ll get you working,'” Vincent Rivera said. “That’s pretty much all he told me.”
“I told him,” Ron Rivera said. “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.”
“It was a very Latino experience for me,” Vincent Rivera said.
Since then, Vincent Rivera has climbed the ranks in Washington and was promoted this season as an assistant linebackers coach.
Head coach Ron Rivera wanted to ensure his sobrino (nephew) earned his position, and for Vincent Rivera, he can see that the hard work is paying off.
“It was a lot of work to start off that way. Seeing things from kind of everybody’s perspective has been a huge blessing for me.”
For others on staff, like run game coordinator, Juan Castillo, the journey to become an NFL coach was not as easy.
Castillo is a first-generation Mexican American, and he didn’t know anyone when he first started.
“The first couple of years I was sleeping in my car, and eating McDonald’s for breakfast,” he said.
Then, he got his first NFL coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles under head coach Andy Reid. That is where he first met Ron Rivera.
“Juan was one of those guys that wanted to outwork everybody,” Rivera said. “We were together in Philadelphia in 1999, that was the first time we had worked together and I really got to know him and see his work ethic. It really kind of helped shape me as to who I am, I think as a football coach.”
“Ron and myself, we would get together every morning at 5 a.m. and study,” Castillo said. “Just study football every morning in the offseason and we became friends. He’s my son’s godfather too.”
Across all Latino cultures, the core values consist of hard work, and the expectation to earn everything you achieve.
At least that is what assistant defensive backs and nickels coach, Cristian Garcia, who is of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent, believes.
“I like to look at the game analytically,” Garcia said. “Any time you enter a new place, whether that is playing or coaching, you have to earn respect, and the way you do that is through being consistent and being dependable, doing your job at a high level consistently.”
Latinos make up less than 1% of current players across all NFL rosters. Latinos also make up less than 1% of all NFL coaches.
Despite the NFL’s several initiatives to hire more coaches of color, and provide opportunities to be seen, the four Latino coaches on Washington’s staff, know it might be up to them to help other Latinos who want to coach in the NFL. Garcia said as more Latinos start playing football, more representation will be shown “in the coaching ranks.”
“Baseball, soccer, there’s been other sports that have dominated the Hispanic culture,” Garcia said. “I want to be the pinnacle for the Latino community and especially the coaching community. So I think definitely any time that I can bring a fellow Latino along, I’m going to get that opportunity to do it.”
Vincent Rivera said he thinks everybody wants to “help each other out.”
“I think that’s just kind of the culture that’s instilled in us, so it’s easy for us to do that,” he said. “That’s just kind of what we’ve got to do to keep going. I know they’re all out there, communication to get visibility, and if they see us do it, then hopefully they think that they can as well.”
“I didn’t know anybody and I went and visited people and studied from people and then that’s how you get an opportunity,” Castillo said.
It’s about having to get “guys in front,” Ron Rivera said.
“If you can get them in front, it gives a guy an opportunity or for some matter, even young women opportunities to get into coaching,” Ron Rivera said.