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Former Bears coordinator restarts with West-coast defense

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Aug 23, 2007.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/chargers/2007-08-20-ron-rivera_N.htm" target="_blank">USA Today</a>

    By Jarrett Bell
    <p class="inside-copy"><img src="http://i.usatoday.net/sports/_photos/2007/08/20/riverax.jpg" title="Ron Rivera" alt="Ron Rivera" align="left" height="229" width="205" />SAN DIEGO - Just like a big-time free agent who switched teams during the offseason, Ron Rivera occasionally thinks twice while digesting fresh terminology.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"Sometimes, I catch myself," Rivera said after a recent camp practice, explaining how the term "triple" in one team's playbook translates to "black out-white out" in another. "It's like, 'OK, I'm with you guys.' Ask any player about learning the new terminology. That's the toughest adjustment."</p>

    <p class="inside-copy">Maybe so. But Rivera's career transition is also quite profound.

    Last season, he was coordinator for a Chicago Bears Defense that formed the backbone for a Super Bowl run.

    Now he coaches the inside linebackers for the San Diego

    That's the opposite direction sought by most on the coaching ladder, yet Rivera, 45, sees this as a good thing. Bypassed for a head coaching job on each of the past two hiring cycles - he interviewed for every NFL opening except the Oakland Raiders job since the end of the 2006 season - Rivera believes he has a chance to become a stronger head coaching candidate by supplementing his credentials as a position coach.

    The hook with the Chargers is to learn the 3-4 defense inside-out. San Diego kept the scheme as its base defense when Ted Cottrell replaced Wade Phillips as coordinator after the latter became the Dallas Cowboys coach. Rivera, a rising star in the coaching ranks for several years, was an unexpected bonus for new coach Norv Turner's staff.

    Throughout his playing and coaching careers, though, Rivera has worked exclusively in 4-3 defenses.

    "What's been really good in working for Ted and Norv is that these guys understand my circumstances, and they were very open to me getting involved," Rivera said. "Learning the 3-4 is going to help me down the line. It seems to be in vogue now. I think I missed out on a couple of coaching opportunities where people wanted to keep the 3-4. This will help me in terms of building a resume."

    Rivera's contract with the Bears expired after the Super Bowl, and although he said he was "emotionally disappointed" that he would not return after negotiations for a contract extension broke down, he paints a different picture while ramping up on his new job.

    "You wanted to stay and be a part of it," he said, "but this is an opportunity to spread my wings."

    In three years as Lovie Smith's defensive coordinator, Rivera coached the "Cover 2" schemes that rely less on blitzes and more on fast, mobile linebackers and two-deep coverages designed to minimize big plays. As a Bears linebacker, Rivera learned the "46" defense under the innovative Buddy Ryan. In five years as Philadelphia's linebackers coach, he learned from blitz-happy guru Jim Johnson.

    "The 3-4 is a completely different animal," says Rivera. "You're talking about big, powerful linebackers that are stout and have to play a lot of two-gapping techniques."

    Position coaches are valued for their work on subtle details, and in Rivera's case this includes refining techniques for linebackers dropping into zone coverage.

    Fifth-year pro Stephen Cooper, in his first year as a starter, says Rivera has been on him about opening his hips on drops.

    "He wants everything perfect," Cooper says. "If I'm one yard off on my drop, he lets me know. it's new to me, but it's helped out a lot."

    Cooper has already noticed how his new boss is making progress.

    "Honestly, at first - we were trying to help him through the whole process," Cooper said. "Now he's got it down. - I mean, he's coached (all-pros Brian) Urlacher and (Lance) Briggs. We know what he brings to the table."

    There is also an urgent connection. Like Cooper, the other inside linebacker, Matt Wilheim, is a new starter. "We're like a trio," Cooper said. "Hopefully, the inside linebackers will get the job done, so Coach Rivera can get the praise."

    Rivera isn't the first head coaching candidate to run into numerous brick walls trying to ascend. In recent years, Marvin Lewis, John Fox, Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis were had to bide their time after being passed over before eventually landing head coaching jobs.

    "The hardest thing was not getting a second interview," Rivera said. "Going deep into the playoffs has hurt. I want to be a head coach in this league. That's a goal I've set. Dealing with the disappointment is going to make me a better coach."

    Meanwhile, Rivera realizes the importance of separating career goals from team-oriented goals.

    "The biggest thing is living in the now," he says. "The goal I have as a member of this team is to win the Super Bowl. When you have down time, you think about the personal goals. That's part of it, too. You have to be prepared."</p>

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