Perfect fit

A five-year stint in Philadelphia left an indelible mark on Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. It also made him appreciate his Chicago area roots all the more.

"You know what Mike Schmidt said about how tough the media and fans are in Philadelphia?" Rivera said of the former Phillies third base great. "Philadelphia is the only city where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day.

"Chicago and Philadelphia are similar in terms of the work ethic, blue collar people. I think people here have always been a little more willing to tolerate a team building than they were in Philadelphia."

Although Rivera will never forget his experience with the Eagles under coach Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Jim Johnson from 1999-2003, his background as a Bears player from 1984-1992, an assistant coach in 1997-98 and a broadcaster with WGN and SportsChannel in the mid-1990s make this his dream job. He hopes it remains a dream job with a career of success.

"It's a great opportunity," Rivera said. "It's a real honor to come back and get a chance here in Chicago.

"I think it's going to be one of those where there's going to be an awful lot of high expectations. At the same time I think that's going to be good because it's going to force myself and not just myself but everybody that's involved in this defense -- coaches and players -- to realize that we have to live up to high standards, even higher standards."

Rivera, a California native, takes pride in his Hispanic heritage.

"Honestly, I'm honored to be a Hispanic and also to be a defensive coordinator in the NFL," he said. "Color really doesn't matter to me. I'm kind of color-blind to it because my father was in the military and the only real ranking in the military was on your shoulder.

"And I grew up that way." Rivera's appointment in January drew some raised eyebrows due to his inexperience. He hadn't been a coordinator and has been a coach only in the NFL and for seven years.

However, his background fits in well with Smith's. Smith's defense led the league in turnovers caused last year in St. Louis. He wants a similar aggressive defensive approach. In Philadelphia in 2001, Rivera coached a defense that also led the league in forcing turnovers.

"We're going to be a very aggressive defense," he said.

With the Eagles, Rivera received credit for grooming third-round draft pick Jeremiah Trotter into a little-known linebacker from unheralded Stephen F. Austin into one of the top linebackers in football. He also found a way to make a small (6 foot) linebacker like Mark Simoneau into a smashing success who made 149 tackles for the Eagles.

Now he has Brian Urlacher.

It's been suggested by some critics of Urlacher that his dominance in 2001 was the result of a different Bears defensive system, and that he really doesn't know how to play middle linebacker in a one-gap 4-3 scheme like the Bears now play. Rivera disagrees and sees tremendous talent and potential for growth.

"I think there's some technique things that he's got to continue to work on and get better at," Rivera said. "I think that he's a great physical talent who has the ability to run, which is very prominent in this league. If there's one thing that I've realized in my seven years of coaching and watching players, the guy has to have the ability to run.

"When you've got guys flying around, getting to the football, positive thing will happen."

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