Timing is everything
Bears' Rivera patiently waits to take over own team
Posted: Thursday February 1, 2007 12:18PM; Updated: Thursday February 1, 2007 12:18PM
Give credit to Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera for how smoothly he's handled this past month. He's watched a handful of teams pass him over for a head coaching job. He's also had to hope the Dallas Cowboys keep their current head coaching position open long enough for him to score a interview after Sunday's Super Bowl, which they now are prepared to do. This is just a suspicion, but there are probably easier ways for an assistant coach to enjoy a journey to the Super Bowl.
I'm sure Rivera hasn't let his future become a distraction to the task at hand -- according to Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, Rivera has been doing everything possible to prepare Chicago's defense for the Indianapolis Colts' explosive offense. But the plight he's facing isn't something that should be ignored. We've spent most of the last two weeks talking about how exciting it is to finally have black head coaches appearing the Super Bowl. Well, now it's time to start discussing how another minority is trying to break his way into the top levels of his profession -- and the reasons behind his struggles.
I don't know why the 45-year-old Rivera hasn't found a head coaching job yet. He was a hot candidate last offseason, when 10 teams hired new coaches, but he interviewed with just Green Bay and St. Louis. He's talked to four teams this offseason -- Atlanta, Arizona, Pittsburgh and Miami -- and all hired somebody else. Now Rivera is suffering from bad timing. Since NFL rules prevent assistant coaches on playoff teams from interviewing for jobs unless they have a bye week, Rivera couldn't talk to the Oakland Raiders when their job opened up (which was a blessing for him) and he hasn't been able to discuss the Cowboys job.
The one thing that is keeping hope alive for Rivera is the approach owner Jerry Jones has taken to his coaching search. San Francisco offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who has a 58-82 career record as a head coach (in Washington and Oakland), is reportedly the front-runner for that job, but 49ers assistant head coach Mike Singletary also impressed Jones in a recent interview. Now Jones says he's not going to pick a successor to Bill Parcells until next week and he reportedly wants to talk with Rivera before making his decision. It's encouraging that Jones is willing to take a few extra days to make his choice, especially because Rivera deserves consideration.
Rivera's credentials are so strong -- he's coordinated one of the league's best defenses over the last two years -- that he shouldn't have to go through a second offseason without landing a head coaching opportunity. Though Bears head coach Lovie Smith brought the Cover-2 scheme to Chicago, it's Rivera who's made it work this year, despite the loss of two Pro Bowl-caliber defensive tackle Tommie Harris and strong safety Mike Brown. Rivera also has been around the right people. Before joining Chicago in 2004, he spent five years as Philadelphia's linebackers coach under Andy Reid, who's had one of the most successful tenures of any active coach. There are head coaches in the NFL right now who did far less before landing their dream jobs.
However, the stars don't always align properly for viable candidates. Colts head coach Tony Dungy had to wait several years before the Tampa Bay Bucs gave him a job in 1996. Marvin Lewis coordinated one of the best defenses in NFL history with the Baltimore Ravens in '00 and he didn't get his current job in Cincinnati until two years later. And two former Patriots assistants -- Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel -- suffered from the same rules that hinder Rivera now. "I'm not the first coach that this has ever happened to," Rivera says. "Charlie Weis went through it. Romeo Crennel went through it. These are great coaches who were on great teams that eventually got passed over until they got their shot. I will get my opportunity."
Rivera makes a point of saying he's happy to be a part of Chicago's success. He was a reserve linebacker on the '85 Bears Super Bowl team, so he fully understands what this trip means to that city. But he's also reaching a point in his career when it's time to capitalize on all his success -- his contract with the Bears expires after this game -- and nobody can blame him for thinking about his future. Here's hoping he doesn't have to spend another year chasing his dream.