After interviewing for a few head coaching positions a year ago, Rivera is a much more serious candidate these days and all but assured of being offered at least one of the top dog vacancies. He met with the Arizona Cardinals on Wednesday, and it appears that he will also talk with the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins before it's all said and done. Although Rivera's defense has struggled mightily down the stretch, his unit finished top five in the league for a second consecutive campaign.
Bears head coach Lovie Smith is excited about Rivera's opportunity to further his career and won't stand in his way.
"You just look at what he's been able to to with our defense here", Smith said on Wednesday. "He's gone through the ranks being a player, an assistant coach in the league, [and] coordinating his team in the league. And to me, the next step for him is to become a head football coach."
Arizona relieved Dennis Green of his duties on Monday after just three seasons. Despite being loaded with talent at the skill positions on offense, the Cardinals benched veteran quarterback and former MVP Kurt Warner in favor of rookie Matt Leinart and finished the season just 5-11. The offensive line is in shambles and had trouble opening running lanes for free agent signee Edgerrin James all year long.
Rivera appreciated the time he spent with Arizona and gave credit to the Bears organization for putting him in position to be considered or the job.
"I got an opportunity to interview," Rivera said on Thursday after practice at Halas Hall. "And I think it's a great reflection on this organization in terms of the direction this organization is headed the last few years. I know that a couple teams have contacted and asked for permission. I spoke yesterday with Arizona and got a couple lined up that are forthcoming."
After having gone through this process a year ago, Rivera feels that just being on the list of head coaching candidates is flattering.
"Absolutely," he said. "I think if anything, just the fact that I've been recognized as having the potential to be a head coach is kind of exciting. Then again, as I did say, it does reflect very favorably on this franchise and on the coaching staff that Coach Smith has put together and the way the players have played for us the last few years. I can't praise this organization enough for putting me in this position."
Desite still not knowing exactly what the Cardinals are looking for in a field general, Rivera thought his meeting went about as well as he could have hoped.
"I don't know what they're thinking," he said, "but I thought it went well, and I thought I was pretty well prepared. Getting an opportunity to interview last year gave me a little insight as to what to expect, and then I think just the preparation and getting ready for it was pretty good."
Although life seems to be coming up roses for Rivera personally, it's a much different story right now concerning his once-vaunted defense. The Bears had all kinds of trouble stopping the run in the middle of the season, and then teams were throwing the ball on them at will down the stretch. Pro-Bowlers Mike Brown and Tommie Harris are on injured reserve, and cornerbacks Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman have missed time lately with nagging injuries.
Rivera was asked if he needs to temper the expectations for his defense considering the fact that many of his key personnel are no longer available.
"We're going to keep the expectations right where they are," he said. "There's no reason not to. I think we've got a great corps of guys. We do miss Tommie. We do miss Mike Brown, but I think the guys that have stepped in have played fairly well. It's just time for us to put it all together again."
Rivera believes last season's disappointing playoff loss at home to Carolina also provides the Bears defense with plenty of motivation to come out of its month-long rut.
"I think it fuels it very well," he said. "It is a tool that we use. Just talk about, ‘Hey, we left some unfinished business out there, and we want to get the job done this year.' So it is kind of a mantra that we've had this year. We had it going into mini camps last year, training camps, and I think the guys do think about that."
Based on what happens in the wild card round, the Bears will face either the Seahawks, Cowboys, or Giants at Soldier Field next weekend.