Washington coach Ron Rivera has been diagnosed with cancer but plans to continue coaching, he told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Thursday night.
Rivera was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma located in a lymph node, the team said in a statement. Rivera said the cancer is in the early stages and is considered “very treatable and curable.”
Rivera told his players in a team meeting Thursday night. As of now, he said, nothing changes with his job.
“I’m planning to go on coaching,” he told Schefter. “Doctors encouraged me to do it, too. They said, ‘If you feel strongly, do it. Don’t slow down, do your physical activities.’ But everyone keeps telling me by week three or four, you’ll start feeling it.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, squamous cell cancer is a form of skin cancer. It is usually not life-threatening but can spread throughout the body and cause serious complications.
Rivera said he has a Plan B in place, though he wasn’t yet ready to divulge more information. Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has been a head coach for two teams — Jacksonville (2003-11) and Oakland (2015-17). No one else on the staff has head-coaching experience in the NFL.
Rivera, 58, has consulted with a number of doctors and specialists and is establishing a treatment plan with the team and an outside specialist.
Rivera said he found a lump on his neck in early July, and when it didn’t go away after a couple of weeks he visited a doctor. He said he was told of the cancer two weeks ago.
“I was stunned,” he said. “But I was angry because I feel like I’m in the best health I’ve been in.”
Rivera has led Washington through a tumultuous offseason that featured numerous off-field issues, ranging from dealing with the coronavirus pandemic to a name change to a report detailing sexual harassment allegations in the organization.
But lately, Rivera was upbeat as he could focus on football with practice beginning. The team started working in full pads Tuesday, and Rivera appeared to be his normal self during video conference interview sessions with the media.
However, during other times Rivera clearly had other things on his mind.
“I’ve just been angry,” he told Schefter. “The thing that I find out how many people that have gone through this. Outpatient therapy, proton therapy.”
Rivera said he gathered the players in a big circle after their evening meeting so he could tell them in person.
“Some were stunned. A bunch came up and wished me well,” Rivera said. “I said, ‘I’m going to be a little more cranky, so don’t piss me off.'”
Players have taken to Rivera, hired by owner Dan Snyder after the 2019 season.
“He’s definitely a player’s coach,” defensive end Ryan Anderson said earlier in the day. “So far, I like him. I trust him. I’d run through a wall for him.”
Rivera was buoyed by the support he said he has received from the organization and health care specialists.
“I’m going through the proper treatment,” he said. “This will be fine.”
Jason Wright, hired as Washington’s new team president earlier this week, posted a tweet later Thursday in support of Rivera.
Adding my prayers for health to the innate strength and deep resilience in @RiverboatRonHC ‘s body, mind, and Spirit.
— Jason Wright (@whoisjwright) August 21, 2020
Rivera has been active with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network ever since his brother, Mickey, was diagnosed with the disease. He died two years later in 2015, but he remained a source of inspiration for Rivera, who missed a few days in training camp to attend the funeral.
“The thing I shared with the players is that my brother Mickey made a total commitment,” Rivera said at the time. “I have told the players how making a total commitment is so important.”
A year after his brother’s death, he shared what he had learned from the experience.
“That no matter what my situation and circumstances were, as long as I have my health I’m OK,” Rivera said. “That’s the biggest thing I learned from that.”