SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera returned to work Monday with a message for his players.
Rivera missed the previous two days of training camp practice to attend the funeral in Reno, Nevada for his brother Mickey, who died last week following a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
The fifth-year coach said Mickey was an inspiration to him, and that players can learn a lesson from the way his brother conducted his life.
Mickey Rivera sold everything several years ago and moved his family to Reno to purchase a Little Caesars pizza franchise. There, he worked tirelessly alongside his wife to build it into a successful business.
''The thing I share with the players is that my brother Mickey made a total commitment,'' Rivera said following Monday's steamy practice when the heat index reached 109 degrees. ''... I have told the players how making a total commitment is so important. When you sell everything and put everything on you (to succeed), to me that is a tremendous thing.''
Rivera wants to see his players do the same thing this season.
He spent time with Mickey, his parents and other family members during a vacation earlier this summer.
Mickey visited Charlotte in January when Rivera's home caught fire after a malfunction in his fireplace, causing $500,000 in damages. Rivera honored Mickey with a game ball a few days later after the Panthers defeated the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC playoffs.
Rivera, who played nine seasons for the Chicago Bears before getting into coaching, called Mickey one of his ''first and best teammates,'' saying he was an inspiration the way he fought the cancer with a positive attitude.
Rivera said he'll miss his brother, adding ''he's in a better place now.''
''It's been a rough couple of years for their family and his brother has really fought,'' said tight end Greg Olsen, one of dozens of players who reached out to Rivera after hearing the news. ''It's terrible, a tragedy, and unfortunate, but (Rivera) is a strong guy and his family is very strong and very close. They'll get through this the best they can and Ron's going to handle this the way he has to.''
Rivera returned from his trip to Reno on Sunday night and attended team meetings. He was never far away from football, even though he was more than 2,500 miles from training camp.
When he was in Reno for the funeral Rivera followed reporters on Twitter. That's where he learned wide receiver Stephen Hill tore the ACL in his right knee.
He also received updates from general manager Dave Gettleman, assistant general manager Brandon Beane and assistant coach Steve Wilks about practices, and watched videos of practice on his Ipad.
''I was able to keep abreast on things, so it wasn't as if I was completely gone,'' Rivera said.
He even disagreed with the analysis of some reporters who suggested on Twitter that left tackle Michael Oher was struggling in pass-blocking drills.
''It wasn't as dramatic as I read and once I watched it on tape I was relieved,'' Rivera said with a smile.
Rivera is eager to get back to some semblance of normalcy in his life. It was only last week when he and his wife, Stephanie, finally moved back into their home after the fire. A few days later they learned of Mickey's death.
Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. said he took Rivera's message to the team to be about the importance of family.
''He said his family culture is that they stick together,'' Ginn said. ''... You lean on your older brother or your younger brother in certain situations. And now that his brother is gone he is going to step up to be the best brother-in-law and uncle to that family that he can be. That's what I got out of it.''
NOTES: Center Ryan Kalil received a veteran day, which meant right tackle Mike Remmers worked at center and rookie Daryl Williams got time at first-team right tackle. ...Rivera said defensive tackle Kawaan Short (back) is expected back on the field soon.
AP NFL websites: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL