Bears’ Rivera is being unfairly ruled out
Poor Ron Rivera. Victimized first by arcane NFL rules, then by a veritable news famine this Super Bowl week.
The Chicago Bears’ defensive coordinator showed up Thursday for what should have been one final mundane media session, only to find his table was the most popular spot in the room, encircled by a two-deep crowd of reporters.
These things happen when there’s a dearth of news to report, and a little scrap connecting a participant to the sexy star of the NFL -- the Dallas Cowboys -- pops up. (Keep in mind, this was before Prince’s “press concert” performance).
Among the story lines, not much has changed since the conference championship games: Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith are still African American, Peyton Manning still hasn’t won a championship and Rex Grossman is still Rex Grossman.
That explains the massive interest in the report that the Cowboys are interested in interviewing Rivera as they assemble a new coaching staff. The starving news hounds had their doggy treat.
One problem: There isn’t anything Rivera can say or do to advance the story. After the wild-card weekend, coaches can’t interview for other jobs until after their season is over. Those darn Bears kept on winning.
“I’ve talked to nobody,” Rivera said in regard to the Cowboys job.
Now the Pittsburgh job that he interviewed for is gone. The Atlanta job is filled. So is Miami’s. Even Arizona and Oakland are unavailable.
Rivera had to stay on the sidelines because coaches in the playoffs are allowed to interview only before a playoff bye in the opening week. For whatever reason, NFL owners are too impatient, rushing to put coaching staffs together in January so they’ll be in place for personnel decisions in March and April.
Few if any are willing to wait to see whether they could steal someone from teams that, you know, win playoff games. So the most successful assistant coaches are the least likely to advance to higher positions somewhere else.
“That’s the nature of the business,” Rivera said. “I’m not the first coach it happened to, I’m not the last.
“I know why the rule’s in place, because right now the focus should be on Indianapolis. I agree with that to a degree. At the same time, there is some frustration.”
The problem is, the New England Patriots and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis blew that theory out of the water two years ago. Colleges aren’t under the same restrictions as NFL teams, so Notre Dame hired Weis as its head coach during the NFL playoffs.
Even with Weis calling recruits, he still was able to put the finishing touches on a game plan that beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl. (In fact, he first had to pass an NCAA rules test just to be eligible to recruit.) If anything, a coach committed to another pro team would have less work, since he wouldn’t be taking over in the stretch run of the letter-of-intent drive.
If Rivera’s job hunt were such a distraction, Coach Lovie Smith and his players would not have made a point of offering verbal recommendations for Rivera in their media session.
“I’m still trying to figure out exactly why he hasn’t been able to get [a head coaching job], because he’s done it the right way, as a player, an assistant coach, a coordinator,” Smith said. “Now he deserves his chance. We’ve had some success. I think guys on our staff deserve an opportunity to run a team.”
As the coordinator for one of the league’s top five defenses, Rivera seems more deserving than two other names mentioned for the Cowboys: the untested Jason Garrett and the unsuccessful-in-two-headcoaching-tries Norv Turner.
As a member of the 1985 Bears, Rivera has the successful, in-the-trenches experience that resonates with today’s players. He has learned how Mike Ditka’s challenges got the most out of players, and how Smith’s calm demeanor keeps a team on an even keel.
Not that the NFL really cares about the feelings of its players, but if the Bears knew their defensive coordinator was leaving them, they’d get over it.
“You wouldn’t want to lose a guy that has helped build this defense and this organization, taken it from 5-11 to one step away from winning the Super Bowl,” defensive lineman Adewale Ogunleye said. “But then, if we look at it on a big picture, it’s a great reflection on the defense. I really do hope he gets the job, because he deserves it.”
In the future, the Ron Riveras of the world might have a better opportunity. Pittsburgh Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney said the no-contact rule could come up for discussion at the owners’ meetings in March.
“Our point is you should be able to talk when the second bye week comes, in between the championship game and the Super Bowl,” Rooney said.
For now, Rivera keeps reminding himself, he must be doing something right.
“I think it’s great that people have confidence in me,” he said. “What I’ve always said, too, is that it speaks very well of what we’ve done here and the success we’ve had here. Coach Smith’s plan and the way he does things is very successful. You would like to hope and think that people hope to mimic that.
“How do you do it? You get one of his assistant coaches. If not, I have a great job here in Chicago, I really do.”
He’s part of the reason it got so good, in case no one else has noticed.
J.A. Adande can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more by Adande go to latimes.com/adandeblog.