Ron Rivera was a fan favorite across several Bears and Bears-adjacent platforms. He played his entire career in Chicago from 1984-92, then worked as a broadcaster once his playing days were over. And when Rivera jumped into the fray as a coach, he eventually made his way back to the Bears as a defensive coordinator.
The Bears defense improved in each year Rivera ran the show, with the unit’s best showing coming during the 2006 season. You might have fond memories of that year, in which the Bears rode a defense that ranked first in takeaways, third in points, and fifth in yards all the way to the Super Bowl. No, those Bears didn’t win it all … but the foundation was there with a ferocious defense and a coordinator who pushed all the right buttons.
And then an inexplicable decision was made to let Rivera go in the offseason. Head Coach Lovie Smith never offered up reasoning behind the call to part ways with Rivera. But in a Q&A session with Joseph Pearson of The Athletic, Rivera explained what ultimately led to the fallout.
“When Lovie decided to let me go, I think a lot of it had to do with just the fact that I wasn’t his guy,” Rivera said. “I was hired by the general manager (Jerry Angelo), and it’s just one of those things — he wanted to put his guy (Bob Babich) there. So I understood that. It wasn’t a personal decision. And that’s one of the things that Coach Smith and I have always talked about: It wasn’t personal, which I get.”
The air is finally clear, but it still doesn’t feel any better knowing why Rivera was let go. Chicago’s defense took a tumble under Bob Babich, ranking 28th, 21st, and 17th in total defense when he took over. Meanwhile, Rivera landed on his feet and orchestrated three defenses that ranked in the top half of the league before getting the Panthers’ head-coaching position. It makes you wonder what could have been for the Bears had Smith maintained continuity with his defensive play-caller. Because in the end, the business decision Smith made was one that set the defense (and team) back.