After his Bears defense was perhaps the best in the NFL in 2005, defensive coordinator Ron Rivera interviewed for some head-coaching positions for the first time the following offseason and almost got the job with the St. Louis Rams. It was assumed that he would come back to Chicago for one final run as an assistant in 2006 before finally getting his opportunity for the top post elsewhere in 2007, but the Bears made it all the way to Super Bowl XLI and took away his opportunity to continue interviewing. Rivera talked seriously with Arizona and Pittsburgh among others, but those positions had been filled by the time he was working on his tan in Miami.
Maybe Rivera would stick around in Chicago for another year afterall.
But Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, still has not filled the vacancy left by the retired Bill Parcells, so the organization asked and received permission from the Bears on Tuesday to speak with Rivera.
"I think it's my time," Rivera said Sunday night after the Bears' 29-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl. "I will see how it unfolds. I have done what I needed to do. It's up to the owners and what they want. We will see what happens."
49ers offensive coordinator Norv Turner was apparently the front-runner for the job in Big D, especially since he was as assistant on the Dallas teams that won three championships in four years from 1992-95. But with former Cowboys backup quarterback Jason Garrett already installed as the new offensive coordinator, bringing in another offensive mind makes little sense. Rivera, on the other hand, is considered to be a top defensive assistant in this league and overdue for an opportunity to be a head coach.
Rivera's immediate boss, Bears front man Lovie Smith, has been supportive every step of the way.
"Ron has had an opportunity to interview for a few head jobs," Smith said. "I am still trying to figure out exactly why he hasn't been able to get one because he has done it the right way. He was a player, assistant coach, coordinator and now he deserves his chance."
Assuming safety Mike Brown can get over his latest lower-leg injury and defensive tackle Tommie Harris returns to form after tearing a hamstring - both were Pro-Bowlers in 2005 - Rivera's defense has a chance to be better than ever next season. Safety Daniael Manning won't be a rookie anymore, high-motor defensive end Mark Anderson will only get better, and there is still a chance the team will retain All-Pro linebacker Lance Briggs via contract extension or franchise tag. The Bears still play in a very winnable NFC North, and Rex Grossman & Company should be improved on the other side of the ball.
That being said, even Brian Urlacher knows that the chance to be a head coach is what Rivera ultimately wants.
"I'm not sure what the situation is with Dallas," Urlacher said. "I would think that if that opportunity presented itself, it would be good. But if not, I expect him back. He is obviously a great coach, and we are lucky to have him."
However, it remains to be seen just how crucial the potential loss of Rivera would be. Before Brown's injury in Week 6, the Monsters of the Midway were nothing short of dominant on defense and drawing constant comparisons to the legendary 1985 Bears that won Super Bowl XX. But losing Brown had an immediate impact on the team's ability to stop the run, and Rivera showed little or no ability to fix the problem.
Then in Week 13, Harris went down for the season. A pash rush that had been racking up the sacks suddenly could not put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and the secondary was exposed as a result. The Bears gave up eye-popping passing numbers to the likes of Tim Rattay of the Buccaneers and Jon Kitna of the Lions, two teams that were out of the playoff picture before the calendar flipped to October.
Although the defense came up with a herculean effort in the NFC champioship game against New Orleans, Peyton Manning and the Colts moved the ball at will in the Super Bowl. Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes combined for 40 carries and 190 yards, and Manning dinked-and-dunked his way to 25-of-38 for 247 yards passing. Anderson was credited with the lone Chicago sack, but the pash rush was nowhere to be found for much of the game.
So how much will Rivera ultimately be missed should be take the Cowboys gig?
Yes, Rivera has had three very good defenses in his three seasons according to the numbers. That being said, the Bears D was gashed by Carolina last postseason, nearly beaten by Seattle this postseason, and utterly ineffective on Super Sunday. Losing Brown and Harris certainly hurt Rivera's personnel, but great coaches find a way to fix the dam before the water breaks through.
Again, according to The Clash, "If I go there will be trouble. If I stay it will be double."