For Ron Rivera, dumped in Chicago, living well is the best revenge


For Ron Rivera, dumped in Chicago, living well is the best revenge

A cliche perhaps, but living well is the best revenge. And it is how Ron Rivera has been going about his life’s work, as SI writer Austin Murphy chronicles nicely in his piece “Ron Rivera’s rift with Lovie Smith behind him in Super Bowl return.”

The Carolina Panthers head coach and member of the ’85 Bears has gotten far, far beyond one of his greatest career disappointments, that of being let go as defensive coordinator by Smith in the aftermath of the Bears’ Super Bowl XLI loss to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

Fittingly perhaps, Rivera now faces Manning in another Super Bowl, although job security is obviously not in the Rivera discussion now, win or lose on Sunday. (It might be for Manning, but certainly not for Rivera.)

[MORE SUPER BOWL 50: Cam Newton’s success traces to Ron Rivera letting him be himself]

But as Austin lays out, a big part of the feel-good surrounding Rivera and his Panthers being in the Super Bowl is how Rivera has refused to dwell on or even talk extensively about how things ended in Chicago.

A touch of perspective here: On the surface, that Rivera ever had issues as a defensive coach is puzzling. He was the Philadelphia Eagles linebackers coach under Jim Johnson, then Chicago's defensive coordinator, then on to San Diego as a linebackers coach (2007) and defensive coordinator (2007-10) and finally to Carolina as top man.

But everywhere he’s been, Rivera has been a part of very, very good defenses. In Philadelphia (1999-2003) the Eagles ranked 11th in his first year, then Top 5 in four of his last five years. In Chicago, the defenses ranked 13, 1 and 3.

The Chargers ranked 5, 15, 11 and 10 in Rivera’s four years there. And the Panthers were 2, 21 and 6 in the past three seasons.

[MORE SUPER BOWL 50: Broncos vs. Panthers - And the winner is...]

But Austin’s story looks more specifically at Chicago, and ultimately at Smith as much as Rivera.

One element that bothered Smith was Rivera’s aggressive quest for a head-coaching job, with an annual procession of interviews that didn’t get Rivera a job but it did fuel any reservations Smith might have had about Rivera.

That’s unfortunate. Few compliments of coaching compare to a member of one’s staff being successful elsewhere, which Rivera ultimately was, albeit after settling for a demotion to linebackers coach with San Diego in 2007. That quickly became defensive coordinator the next year and stayed there until the end of the 2010 season when Rivera succeeded John Fox as Panthers field boss.

There’s some sort of odd irony in the idea that loyalty, a truly prized value in people generally, can be such a liability in sports. But that’s a simple fact, if only because friendship does not automatically equate to competence.

[MORE SUPER BOWL 50: What Mike Ditka advice is former Bears LB Ron Rivera taking into Super Bowl 50?]

What Smith did was to effectively get rid of Rivera and promote Bob Babich from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator. Babich was a longtime friend of Smith’s and had helped out one of Smith’s sons going through a rough stretch in college once upon a time. But Babich was a disaster as a coordinator, nicknamed “Bullet” by players who found him amusing but not a coach who inspired true respect from the likes of Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and others.

Babich went on to become Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator, a job he lost after the 2015 season following three disastrous years.

After Ron Turner was let go as offensive coordinator in 2009 following a scratchy one season with quarterback Jay Cutler, Smith turned to Mike Martz for the job. Martz had given Smith his first coordinator’s post while the two were with the St. Louis Rams.

But Martz had been out of the game for the two previous seasons after being fired in San Francisco. His force-feeding an out-of-step, deep-drop offense to Cutler worked from the standpoint of reining in Cutler’s interception tendencies, but the offense crumbled in the second half of 2011 and Martz proved unable to find anything with Caleb Hanie and then Josh McCown. Martz was gone after 2011 and hasn’t coached since.

As Austin details in his SI piece on Rivera, Smith has gone down with loyalty hires in Tampa as well.

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Very notably, however, is that Smith was successful, just not to the degree that his last two general manager's wanted. Phil Emery fired Smith after a 10-6 mark in 2012. Jason Licht dumped Smith this offseason despite Smith improving the Bucs from two to six wins with Rookie of the Year quarterback Jameis Winston.

Rivera’s Panthers were a combined 4-0 against Smith’s Buccaneers over the latter’s two Tampa Bay seasons, outscoring the Bucs 114-64.

The first Bears game in 2007 after Rivera was let go by Smith was against the Chargers. The Chargers shocked the defending NFC champions 14-3.

The final game of Smith’s Tampa Bay tenure was against Rivera’s Panthers, who mauled Smith’s Buccaneers 38-10. Three days later Smith was fired.

Indeed, living well is always the best revenge.

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”