LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Bears on Monday announced that Ron Rivera will not return for a fourth season as the team’s defensive coordinator. The three-year contract that Rivera signed when he was hired in 2004 expires next week.
“I’ve decided to go in a different direction with the defensive coordinator’s position,” said coach Lovie Smith. “I really appreciate the job Ron did for us for three years and I’m excited about his future going in a different direction. But it’s my job to put us in the best situation to move forward and I think this will give both of us a chance to go in the direction we’d like to.”
Ron Rivera spent 14 seasons with the Bears as a player and assistant coach.
During Rivera’s tenure in Chicago, the Bears defense tied for the NFL lead with 101 takeaways and topped the NFC with 13 touchdowns and 65 interceptions.
A Bears linebacker for nine seasons from 1984-92, Rivera is the only member of the organization to play and coach in a Super Bowl. Two decades before helping the team reach Super Bowl XLI, he was a reserve linebacker on the famed 1985 squad that demolished the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.
Rivera began his coaching career as a defensive quality control assistant with the Bears in 1997-98. After spending the next five seasons as linebackers coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, he returned to the Bears in 2004 as part of Smith’s original staff.
“I did enjoy my last three years as the Bears defensive coordinator,” Rivera said. “It was a great ride. The three years really gave me an opportunity to learn and grow as an individual and as a coach, and for that I’m grateful. This is the same team that drafted me 23 years ago, and believe me, it’s been an honor to be a part of this team.
“I’m very proud of the accomplishments that this team made, the improvement we made over the last three seasons. Honestly, my only real disappointment is that 15 days ago we didn’t win the Super Bowl in Miami.”
Rivera wasn't out of work for long. Late Monday he accepted a job as linebackers coach with the Chargers. Earlier in the day, San Diego had named Norv Turner, brother of Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner, as their new head coach.
Rivera has interviewed for eight NFL head-coaching jobs the past two years. Since the end of the regular season, he spoke with the Cardinals, Chargers, Cowboys, Dolphins, Falcons and Steelers. A year ago, he met with the Packers and Rams. But Smith denied that Rivera’s pursuit of a head-coaching position played a role in the decision to go in a different direction.
“It’s been my goal all along to help Ron, to do everything I could to get Ron an opportunity to get a head football coaching job and it’s no more than that,” Smith said. “We’ve tried to do that.
“Ron had a contract. I don’t see it as a firing or anything like that. His contract expired and he wants to go in one direction and I’d like to go in one, no more than that.”
Smith was asked how his coaching staff is better without Rivera.
“I think you should trust me as the head football coach to put us in the best position to win football games,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. I feel comfortable that we’ll have an outstanding staff next year and put ourselves in a good position to win.”
Smith denied that philosophical differences led to the Bears parting ways with Rivera.
“It’s none of that at all,” he said. “Ron had the same philosophy that we have his entire time here. You'll always do things differently if you're some other place. You'll never do things exactly the same way. But there was never a problem with our philosophy. We played great defense while Ron was here and we’re going to play good defense now that Ron is gone.”
When asked about performance issues, Smith said: “Those are the things Ron and I talked about. We feel good about the things we did together during that time, but no more needs to be said about that. That’s between he and I.
"It’s just a fit that we have and right now the direction I would like to go and the direction that Ron would like to go. We’re going in two different directions."
Rivera was asked by a reporter whether there was a personality conflict between him and Smith.
“I don’t think there is, I really don’t,” he said. “I believe this is just a football decision and it was made. Emotionally, I’m disappointed in not getting the opportunity to come back in ’07 because as I said after the (Super Bowl) loss, this is a football team that’s headed in the right direction.
“(There are) a lot of quality football players on this roster … and I really believe that this football team has every opportunity to get back to the Super Bowl next season.”
Butkus hired: In other news Monday, the Bears hired Luke Butkus as assistant offensive line coach.
Butkus, the nephew of Bears legend Dick Butkus, was signed by Chicago as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Illinois in 2002, went to training camp with the Bears and was waived on Sept. 1, 2002.
Butkus was a graduate assistant at the University of Oregon the past two seasons.