CHARLOTTE, NC (WTKR)- On Sunday, Ron Rivera coaches in Bank of America Stadium for the first time since being fired by the Panthers in 2019. While he may have been shown the door in Carolina, his reputation and legacy remain strong in the Queen City.
Rivera said this past week that the biggest thing he misses about Charlotte is the people. He developed close friendships during his nine seasons with the Panthers and few people know the head coach better than Tom Marcham, one of his best friends from his time in Carolina.
"Ron should write the book on how every athlete or every coach should be," Marcham said.
Rivera was the spokesperson for Marcham's Mercedes-Benz of South Charlotte while he was the head coach of the Panthers and the two became fast friends.
"He was a great spokesperson for us, but it was a place where he could come and we could shut the door and we could sit like two buddies and talk," Marcham recalled. "I looked forward to it and I know he did."
In business and socially, you'd often find Rivera and Marcham, who is the president and general manager of the dealership, together. The Panthers' 2015 run to the Super Bowl saw them meet for dinner prior to every game except for two.
"Believe it or not, the two we missed, because of scheduling reasons, were the only two games they lost all year," said Marcham. "One was against Atlanta and the other one was the Super Bowl."
The head coach became a fan favorite during his time in North Carolina. He and his wife supported causes like Ronald McDonald House, the Humane Society and the USO. Marcham says that Charlotte loved him back.
"He was way more than a coach here. People really surrounded Ron through his ups and downs, even when he wasn't winning."
Following a four game losing streak in 2019, the Panthers fired Rivera. Even though the team's roar had become more of a purr at that point, there did not seem to be much bad blood between coach and community.
"When he was let go, the town, they turn on you, they run you out of town," Marcham noted. "It became even more of a lovefest. They love him even to this day and I know tomorrow is going to be big for the fans when he returns."
It's a return that Panthers' fans hope their team can spoil a bit, but it will still be a chance to celebrate the man who led the franchise to one of its most successful eras.
"I'm sure he's going to have some jitters going back in, but this was a lovefest that continues on," said Marcham. "For the fans, they're going to like seeing him."