He has presided over the best defense in the NFL over the past three seasons. While some credit should rightfully go to Lovie Smith (since he has a defensive background as well and Rivera is teaching and implementing Smith's scheme), Rivera is still the man who works with the players every day and the man whose reputation is on the line. If Donnie Henderson can get fired for coaching an underperforming unit, Rivera should be praised for coaching an excellent one.
Rivera had success as a player, success as an assistant coach, and success as a coordinator. He was part of Buddy Ryan's "46" defense in the 80's, part of Philadelphia's defensive dominance in the late 90's and early 00's, and his record speaks for itself in Chicago.
He's been part of winning organizations and has been on the biggest stages as a player, assistant, and coach.
Essentially, he's not a loser. He's a winner. He thinks like a winner. He acts like a winner. He projects victory and excellence on his charges. His players work hard for him and raise their game to another level. There have been too many losers in the Valley of the Sun the past 20 or so years. The Cardinals need to hire a winner.
How much of his success can be attributed to being in the right place at the right time? The '85 Bears were loaded on both sides of the ball. One could argue that you can't help but be a winner in that situation. He joined the Eagles at the outset of the McNabb Era. When Andy Reid was finally starting to hit his stride and Rivera was able to live in the shadow of Jim Johnson. It can be argued that the Bears are just in the right place at the right time as well. The Packers and Vikings have imploded the last two seasons and the Lions are, well, the Lions. Many have said that the Bears won the AFC North by default (much the same way the Seahawks won the West, but the Bears won their division in more convincing fashion).
How much credit does Lovie Smith deserve for Rivera's success? How much credit do the players deserve? After they get their credit, how much does Rivera deserve?
He's never been a head coach at any level. While Sean Payton and Eric Mangini are two recent examples of first time coaches, so are Rod Marinelli (of the 3-13 Lions) and Jim Mora, Jr. (recently fired coach of the Falcons).
He had a lot of interviews last off-season, but wasn't hired. Is there something wrong with him? Or was it simply not his time?
The Bears are the best team in the NFC (I want to crown them, so I'm gonna go ahead and crown them). They'll be playing deep into January and possibly in February. The Cardinals might not want to wait that long.
The Cardinals are looking for the next Sean Payton, Eric Mangini, or Marvin Lewis, not the next Jim Mora Jr., Rod Marinelli, or Mike McCarthy. Is Rivera that guy? Is he the one that can change the losing culture in the desert? Can he inspire the players, be the backbone of the organization, and finally bring the Red Birds to the playoffs?
Is he dynamic enough to do that, or is he just another in a long line of guys that were great coordinators, but lousy head coaches? Is he Lovie Smith or Dom Capers?
In my opinion, if previous head coaching experience is irrelevant to you, you need to choose a candidate that will turn around the fortunes of your franchise. You need someone that will inspire and educate your players, bringing them to levels that they had previously thought unattainable.
If the Cardinals are truly looking to do that, they're interviewing the wrong former Bears linebacker. They need to literally toss experience away and talk to Mike Singletary. Singletary is a former player, currently coaches the linebackers for the 49ers, and is a man that players can get behind and be inspired by. He's got a defensive background. He's an excellent teacher (watch the behind-the-scenes stuff from last year's Senior Bowl and you'll see what I mean) and anyone who has seen an interview with him knows how intelligent he is.
That's my soapbox. If the Cardinals are really looking for a fresh face in their coaching search, they should hire Singletary. If they're looking for someone who will try hard but probably isn't the guy to turn the franchise around, they could always hire Rivera and start this process over again in 3 years when Singletary has enough experience (though he'll probably be the head coach for someone else).