Chicago's Ron Rivera...
MIAMI - This much is known about Ron Rivera, quite possibly the newest candidate to be swept into the Dallas Cowboys' ever-widening search for a head coach who could conceivably down the road turn into something like assistant head coach in charge of defense:
He is the Chicago Bears' defensive coordinator. Has been now for the past three seasons, giving him 10 years of NFL coaching experience.
He played nine NFL seasons, all with the Bears, including earning a Super Bowl ring on The Monsters' 1985 team.
His name has been on the list of top minority head coaching candidates forwarded to the NFL by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, already having been a top contender with Pittsburgh, Miami, Atlanta and was thought to be the leading candidate in Arizona before Ken Whisenhunt was hired.
And he's been here all week preparing the league's fifth-ranked defense to take on the league's third-ranked offense when the Bears meet the Colts Sunday in Super Bowl XLI.
But here's a couple of things you might not know about the 45-year-old Rivera, who has reportedly become someone of interest to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who was to arrive here on Thursday, though is not allowed to officially interview the Chicago assistant - if he so desires - until after Sunday's Super Bowl. How about breakfast Monday morning at Joe's Stone Crab?
Rivera confirmed here on Thursday his contract indeed is expiring, meaning he also could legitimately be eligible to become a Cowboys' assistant coach if Jones decides to pass on him as a head coach and hire Norv Turner as he seemed headed before calling at least a five-day timeout on announcing the team's next head coach.
Rivera also insists neither he nor his agent have been contacted by the Cowboys, as are the rules for coaches still involved in the playoffs, and that he only knew of the team's possible interest when his wife called Wednesday after practice to alert him to the reports circulating on various Internet sites. But having said that, he quickly said he would welcome that call from Jones, and did not dismiss the possibility of entertaining overtures of making a lateral move to the Cowboys as at least defensive coordinator.
Rivera is held in high esteem by the Bears' players. Bears starting weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs says when asked about the possibility of his defensive coordinator becoming a head coach, "When he becomes a head coach, it will be the first deserving head coaching job I've heard about in a while."
He's got the necessary football cred with his players. "It's the respect factor he gets," says defensive end Alex Brown, a five-year veteran who arrived in Chicago before Rivera returned from a five-year coaching stay in Philadelphia. "He knows what he's talking about. He knows how to call it. He actually played in a Super Bowl, so he gets a little benefit of the doubt (from the players)."
And Rivera evidently isn't uncomfortable taking charge, even if that means getting a tad emotional, something he might have learned from his former Bears teammate Steve McMichael, who as Rivera's story goes, gets up in front of the group the night before the Bears wiped out New England in Super Bowl XX and, for effect, throws a chair so hard it sticks right in the chalkboard.
Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye tells the story about halftime in the locker room in an early-season game (he thinks Minnesota) when the defense was struggling. He said two of the team's defensive players were in the training room "complaining about something." Evidently Rivera overhears them.
"He runs in there, jumps on one of the training tables, and rips into 'em," Ogunleye says. "He says, 'Maybe I didn't put you in the right play, got you in a bad situation, but that doesn't stop you from giving effort. If I call a play, you run it.'
"He will treat you like a man, but when you don't do the right thing, he'll tell you about it. He won't let anything slide."
If indeed Jones interviews Rivera next week, he would become the ninth candidate the Cowboys owner has spoken with about the team's head coaching job that now has been vacant for 11 days. There also is a chance he might speak with Indianapolis quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, another prominent name on the FPA list.
Jones also didn't rule out the possibility of bumping into the previously interviewed Turner or Mike Singletary the remainder of this week at the Super Bowl.
"Again it's possible that I will be interviewing more candidates and I do know first hand that at least one of the candidates will be down at the Super Bowl, or two really," Jones said on Wednesday back at The Ranch of guys he's already spoken with about the job. "And so we'll be probably bumping into them and it'd be impossible not to be talking about some of the things that we discussed in the interview."
There have been reports Turner, if hired, would like for Jones to make a run at Rivera for the team's now vacant defensive coordinator's job. That might seem far-fetched to some since Rivera would be making a lateral move after putting together a Super Bowl-quality defense in Chicago.
But again, Rivera's contract is expiring after the Super Bowl, and at $500,000, is not exactly one of the better paid coordinator's in the league. Even Rivera recognizes the Bears have made no bones about first addressing head coach Lovie Smith, who made $1.3 million this year and has only one year left on his contract.
Rivera also must be aware Jones had paid previous defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer $1 million a year after he turned down the head coaching job at Nebraska and had upped assistant head coach Sean Payton to $1 million a year after he turned down the head coaching job with the Raiders. An offer to double Rivera's contract likely would at least get his attention, though the Bears would still own his rights for two weeks after the final game.
"That's what I'll have to address if that comes to fruition," Rivera said, and then added when asked if an offered pay raise would be enough to leave the Bears, "I don't know, maybe it would give me leverage. When our contracts expire, then we hope to get a very fair salary."
Rivera says he has no ties to the Cowboys; that he obviously knows who Jones is, but doesn't exactly know him personally. But he certainly might have a tie to the Cowboys if they should hire Turner as the head coach.
Norv Turner's brother Ron is Chicago's offensive coordinator, and as expected, he is a big fan of the Cowboys hiring Norv, saying of the possibility, "Obviously, it would be very important (to him) if it's the right fit." And don't get any ideas about Ron, since he has one year remaining on his contract in Chicago.
Rivera also might want to gain some coaching autonomy by coordinating a defense totally on his own, since there might be a perception out there he's only doing the noted-defensive coach Smith's leg work in Chicago. That might help his case to eventually snap up a head coaching job.
Smith, though, while admitting he spends more time concentrating on the defense, his area of expertise and why he was even noticed for the Bears' head coaching job in 2004, pointed out Rivera makes the defensive calls in games.
"I don't make calls," Smith said. "Ron's had an opportunity to interview for a few head coaching jobs and I still haven't been able to figure out why he hasn't gotten a chance."
So with Jones calling a hiring/announcing truce through Sunday's Super Bowl, the wheels continue to turn, fueling even further speculation into just what he's thinking, though it seems probable he will at least talk to Rivera, possibly as early as Monday right here.
"I don't know, I don't know what to tell you guys," Rivera said again Thursday morning. "You wonder if it's true, but you want to keep your focus on Indianapolis."
And asked again about entertaining the possibility of joining a potential Turner staff as defensive coordinator, he said, again seemingly at a loss for facts, "Maybe, we'll see."
Indeed we will.
Ha, imagine; Singletary as the HC, Rivera as the defensive coach and Garett as the offensive coordinator...