They met 20 years ago at NC State — Rivers a spindly true-freshman quarterback and Meyer a newly hired 20-something strength coach.
“I never forget meeting him for the first time,” Rivers said. “Shoot, I had just turned 18. He was probably 28 — I don’t know — he was under 30. I met him walking up the stairs, and he was walking down [to the weight room]. And I remember the head strength coach, Todd Stroud, introduced him to me. We laugh about it now, but Todd introduced him to me and said, ‘This is our true-freshman quarterback.'”
Meyer recalls the conversation with Stroud afterward: “I said to him, that guy’s going to be our quarterback [laughs]? He was a buck ninety soaking wet.”
Of course, Rivers went on to start 51 straight games for the Wolfpack and is now in his 16th NFL season.
Rivers said he spent plenty of down time in the NC State weight room office in between classes and in the summer during the lead-up to two-a-days shooting the breeze with Meyer. The two also got after it in another sport.
“He hasn’t changed a bit; he’s still fiery, competitive and always wanted to win at everything he did,” Meyer said. “Shoot, we used to play racquetball in the offseason, and he’d always get upset because I’d always beat him.”
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said one of the reasons he hired Meyer in 2017 was his relationship with Rivers, along with his acumen as an offensive line coach.
“Pat is an excellent teacher,” Lynn said. “We have some similar philosophies and concepts. He had a relationship with Phil back at NC State. It was kind of like a perfect marriage.”
After Rivers went to the NFL, he and Meyer stayed in touch over the years. They have kids who are about the same age, and that relationship forged 20 years ago helped to build a trust the two now share on game days.
“Because I’ve known him for years, the trust thing is there,” Meyer said. “Obviously, I’ve got to earn his trust and he has to earn my trust. And that’s a big, big part of it.
“If I tell him it is what it is, he’s got to trust that that’s the truth. The same goes for me on what he sees out on the field. We get in disagreements, like anything else. The team is like a family. But at the end of the day, you’re there for one common goal, and that’s ultimately to win.”
Rivers frequently talks to Meyer in between series and appreciates his offensive line coach’s frankness.
“With having a prior relationship, there’s trust,” Rivers said. “I know he’s going to do whatever it takes, however we have to make it to be successful in the running game and to help protection, and the same way with me to him. When you have a relationship and are around each other a long time, it makes you want to fight even harder.”
Meyer is in charge of an offensive line that has been maligned at times for uneven play.
Now that Pouncey is out, only one lineman has more than three years of NFL experience — sixth-year right guard Michael Schofield III.
The Chargers start an inexperienced blindside protector in Trent Scott. Scott is playing in place of Russell Okung, who’s been out since training camp because of a pulmonary embolism caused by blood clots.
Dan Feeney will move from left guard to center, replacing Pouncey. In addition, Forrest Lamp, a second-round selection in the 2017 draft, will get his first career start against the Pittsburgh Steelers, playing right guard.
The Chargers are averaging just 90 yards rushing per game, No. 24 in the NFL. They are averaging just 20 points a contest, No. 18 in the league.
However, they have done a decent job in pass protection, allowing 11 sacks through five games, tied for 13th in the league. According to ESPN Analytics’ pass block win rate, the Chargers’ offensive line is No. 6 in the NFL. However, Pouncey was ranked as the No. 3 center in the league in PBWR.
Schofield said Meyer is different from more traditional line coaches because of his willingness to work with players’ strengths within the scheme.
“I’ve had three or four coaches in the NFL, and Pat is probably one of my favorites that I’ve ever had,” Schofield said. “He’s so open. Most O-line coaches stick with tradition — we blocked this way back then, so we’re going to block like this now — but Pat’s so open to doing it a new way if it works. If you can prove that it works with you, he’s like, ‘OK, you’ve proved that it works, so you can do it that way.’
“He realizes that everyone is different and can’t do it the exact same way, so he’s very open-minded about that stuff, and that’s what I like.”
Added Scott: “He’s a super technician. He’s very detail-oriented on the small things, fine-tuning our game and helping us get better that way.”
With the team off to a 2-3 start, Meyer knows his O-line is still a work in progress. However, even with the injuries to key players, he sees better days ahead for the Chargers.
“We’ve got some young guys in there playing, and they’ve stepped up to the point with what I’ve asked them to do, so I’ve been pleased with it,” Meyer said. “Can we do better? Heck yeah. You can do better in everything that you do. But they’re trying. They’re willing to do it, and they’re taking the coaching of it. … We’ve just got to figure out a way to get it done, close out games and finish drives with points on the board.”