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If you hire Turner, hire Rivera

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Now that the Super Bowl is over, we can return to the Dallas Cowboys eternal search for a new coach. Well, eternal is a little strong, because it will come to an end soon, but it sure seems a long time since the Tuna gave a quick flash of his tail-fin and was gone. It's a good thing for the Cowboys that Jerry Jones has taken his time to interview a variety of coaches and still presumably will interview a couple of more. Include Ron Rivera on that list.

One theme circling around the Cowboys this morning, at least among some fans, is the idea that Ron Rivera was weighed, measured and found wanting based on last night's performance by the Bears defense. In one sense, this might be true. A few days ago I wrote:

...but what happens if the Bears win the Super Bowl, and the defense plays a huge role - which it obviously would have to for the Bears to win. Does the post-Super Bowl euphoria make Jones see Rivera in a whole new light? Would a dominating defensive performance vault Rivera up to serious consideration for the head coaching spot? I don't know, I guess we'll have to see how the game turns out, but maybe it has an impact on Jerry's thinking.

Obviously, the Bears didn't win, and its defense didn't have a particularly strong game, so there will be no tidal wave created by the Super Bowl that will sweep Rivera in as the next head coach. It was a long-shot anyway, given Jones' affinity for Norv Turner. Rivera had a chance to make this a horserace last night, but the opportunity was missed, although it wasn't all on him. The defense did enough to hold the Bears in the game until Rex threw the killer interception and the Colts put the game away.

JJT has more on the missed opportunity for Rivera in article you can find here.

My hope was that the Bears defense would look so good that Jerry would have to think about Rivera as the head coach. To my way of thinking, this was hardly necessary, because I'm judging Rivera on a body of work that includes leading the Bears defense into the elite category over the past few years, plus his tutelage under a master defensive coordinator, the Eagles Jim Johnson. That time spent with Johnson was as important as his time in Chicago because from Johnson he learned how to blitz and create pressure. If you watched the Super Bowl, you might have noticed the Bears using some of the very same blitzes you see from Philadelphia, starting with placing two linebackers right over the C/G gaps. Classic Jim Johnson.

From where I'm sitting Ron Rivera is a must hire at defensive coordinator, if the assumed becomes fact and Jerry names Norv Turner the next head coach. In last night's game, Rivera's unit was uneven. On the positive side, they caused turnovers and they limited the Colts to FG's three times when Indy was deep in Bears territory. They gave Rex Grossman a chance to go out and win the game. Early in the fourth quarter, Chicago had the ball, a first-down on their own 36 yard-line, and a little momentum. The score was only 22-17 in Indy's favor; the game was waiting to be won. Grossman ended that dream. But giving up 22 points to an offense like the Colts is not worthy of contempt.

The Bears defense did fail in a couple of areas. They couldn't generate a pass rush unless they blitzed, and even then they had spotty results. They also remained dogged to the mindset of not giving up the big play, even after Manning demonstrated that he would live with the underneath passes. To their detriment, they never really shook things up as the game progressed. They continued to play the Cover-2 with deep drops by the linebackers while Indy murdered them with swing passes and short, over the middle passes. In some ways, it reminded me of Dallas over the latter part of the season.

And here is the dilemma when judging Rivera's contributions to the defense. Is it Rivera's defense or Lovie Smith's? Smith is a long time follower of the Tampa Cover-2, and the Bears played that for a large portion of the game. If Rivera was given free-reign over a defense, if he was allowed to set the philosophy and install his own scheme, how much different would it look from what he's currently doing? I guess those are some of the questions Jerry Jones will be asking him shortly.

I'm pretty sure Jerry is going to hire Norv Turner as the Dallas Cowboys new head coach. I've made clear how I feel about that, but if Jerry Jones were to hire Ron Rivera as the defensive coordinator, I would feel better about that situation. Rivera brings a wealth of defensive knowledge with him. He played under Buddy Ryan, who believed that the best defense was predicated on getting to the QB. He learned under Jim Johnson, who is one of the very best blitz designers in the NFL and is also a proponent of an aggressive defense. He currently is learning from Lovie Smith, who is part of an ever-expanding group that base their defense on the Cover-2, a much more conservative, bend-don't-break school of thought. All of that should serve Rivera well; he could craft his own defense out of these competing philosophies.

So Jerry, hire Norv if you must, but do the smart thing and hire Ron Rivera as the defensive coordinator.

Update [2007-2-5 13:16:26 by Grizz]: I realized this article might contradict some things I’ve previously posted. So for clarification, I still favor hiring Wade Phillips first as head coach, and Mike Singletary second. And I’d rather have Rivera as head coach over Turner, too.

But I wrote this article with the assumption in mind that Turner will be hired. In that case, I would love for Phillips to be DC, but I don’t see that happening and not many others do, either. Second, I’d like to have Singletary as DC, because of his leadership qualities and his familiarity with the 3-4 defense. But Turner already said they wouldn’t raid the SF staff if he gets the job, and he’s already said his desire is to hire Rivera as DC. If that’s the case, then Jerry should accede to his demands because if you’re trusting him enough to hire him as your head coach, you should at least trust him to pick his defensive coordinator.

I was merely reinforcing the idea that Ron Rivera would be a good choice at DC, even though I favor keeping the 3-4 defense. What Rivera would do in terms of scheme is still unclear. But whatever he chooses to do, I think he is an outstanding defensive coach.