Smith was in a similar position with the Rams after the 2003 season and wound up with the Bears' top job. Now it's Smith's former team that has been the first to express interest in Rivera, although the Vikings and others could soon follow suit.
Rams team president John Shaw hopes to hire a coach to replace the fired Mike Martz in three or four weeks, and so far, Rivera is the only NFL assistant with a playoff team that he's asked permission to speak with, which the Bears have granted. Martz was instrumental in promoting Smith's candidacy two years ago.
"I was in the exact same situation that (Rivera) is in right now, and Mike Martz did a great job of helping me," Smith said. "One of his goals was to help me get a head football coaching job, and he was able to do that. I'm going to do everything I possibly can to help Ron. Ron has done a great job for us here. He deserves his opportunity to run his own team."
Coaches on playoff teams that have games this weekend cannot interview with prospective employers, but because the Bears have a bye, Rivera is available per league rules. After that, he is off limits until the Bears are eliminated.
"This is the ideal week to do it," Smith said, "and I've told Ron that whatever he needs to do, when he needs to do it this week, to do that and just let me know what I can do to help. I think the resume speaks for itself. As teams look at Ron, they should look at what he was able to do with our defense this year. We have a lot of smart football people out there, and I think they'll look at that."
The Bears allowed 45 fewer points than any other team in the NFL, finished No. 2 in yards allowed and will send five defensive players to the Pro Bowl. Last season they were No. 13 in points and No. 1 in yards allowed in Rivera's first season. They were No. 22 in points and No. 14 in yards the year before Rivera arrived after five years as the Eagles' linebackers coach.
Smith will point out that and other attributes to Rivera's suitors.
"I would (tell them) what he was able to do in two years of being the defensive coordinator in charge of that group," Smith said. "I think that's what teams (will see). That's what you're looking for, a guy who can lead, and you have the results of what he can get accomplished. I think that should say enough for the job he's been able to do in two years."
The Rams are believed to be leaning toward a defensive coach but have not ruled out another offense-oriented coach like Martz. Other strong possibilities include Washington Redskins assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Pittsburgh Steelers assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm, who interviewed for the Bears job that Smith got after the 2003 season. Shaw has already said he does not plan to interview Rams interim head coach Joe Vitt for the job and that no college coaches were on his list.
Smith wouldn't confirm that it was the Rams who requested permission to talk to Rivera, but he expects other teams to come calling.
"I don't really want to talk about the team that's contacted him, but if you were looking for a head football (coach) right now, wouldn't you want to contact him?" Smith said. "I think quite a few of the teams will contact him this week."
Because the Rams owe Martz two more years, including $3.25 million for the 2006 season, they are not as likely to pursue a high-priced replacement, such as Williams, who spent three years as a head coach with the Buffalo Bills from 2001-03. With no former head coaching experience, Rivera isn't likely to command as high a salary.