Bears linebackers Urlacher, Briggs loved playing for Rivera
After spending his entire nine-year NFL playing career with the Bears and then five years as an assistant coach in the organization, Panthers first-year head coach Ron Rivera hopes for a warm reception Sunday at Soldier Field when he leads his team against the Bears.
But he won't be shocked if that doesn't happen.
"At some point, I just hope to get a nice little applause," Rivera said. "If not, I understand, because they are Bear fans."
There's no doubt that Rivera will be well received by his former players.
"He was just the ultimate player's coach," said Brian Urlacher, who made two of his seven Pro Bowls in his three seasons under Rivera. "You could talk to him about anything. He wasn't a bitch coach.
"He didn't yell at you. He would relay his message to you, not in a manner where it was demeaning, but you definitely got his message. He was always fun to be around. He was very knowledgeable. He knew the game -- still knows it, obviously. Just a great coach."
Lance Briggs went to two of his six Pro Bowls playing in Rivera's defense, and he appreciated the way Rivera conveyed why he wanted things done a certain way.
"He had a way of explaining things to a player to inspire him," Briggs said. "He'll tell you, 'That's not an easy play for anybody to make. But if you can make that play, you'll shut this play down.' That helped in a lot of ways because I've gone through life with a lot of coaches who've just said, 'Do it this way because I told you to do it.'"
Rivera was not rehired as Lovie Smith's defensive coordinator after the 2006 Super Bowl season. It was awkward, especially considering that it was the defense that carried the team.
But Rivera has moved on.
"It's a business, and you take it for what it is and you go on," he said. "That's what I've done. I've talked with coach Smith on several occasions, at the (scouting) combine and at the owners' meeting and he's been terrific. I guess some people are surprised that that's how I feel about it, but it was nobody's fault. That was just the circumstance, so we moved on.'
That was one situation where "creative differences," wasn't a euphemism but an accurate portrayal of two coaches with different beliefs. Smith, of course, was a Cover-2 advocate who wanted pass-rush pressure to come from the linemen alone, while Rivera favored a scheme heavy on blitzing to get to the quarterback.
"The one thing I'll always say is I learned a tremendous amount of football from coach Smith in my three seasons with him, and I will never deny that," Rivera said. "People have to understand that it was business, and we just went forward. As coach says, 'It's about the players playing on the field on Sunday.'"
Both teams come in at 1-2 and in need of a victory, and Smith is focusing on that rather than renewing acquaintances.
"A lot's been said about Ron," the Bears' coach said. "I've seen Ron a few times since then, but it's always good to see guys that you've worked with. It's just not Ron for us this week. There are seven guys on the other side of the field that I've worked on a staff with.
"But it's not family reunion time or anything like that this weekend. We see an opponent on the other side of the field, and it's business."
Rivera admits that Sunday isn't like every other game.
"Personally, it means a lot because it's Chicago," he said. "It's a great city, and the city has been very good to me. The organization has been outstanding. It's kind of a homecoming. I was there for 17 years and it's been outstanding. I told the players, 'Chicago's a great city, and it's been good to me, and I'm really looking forward to getting back and being at Soldier Field.'"
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