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Ron Rivera: No hard feelings toward Bears coach Lovie Smith

RRiverKeith Ferguson

Ron Rivera, Keith Ferguson

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Updated: November 11, 2011 3:02PM

Former Bears linebacker and defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is looking forward to returning to Chicago when his Carolina Panthers play the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field — but only to beat the Bears, not to stick it to coach Lovie Smith.

Rivera was Smith’s first defensive coordinator with the Bears in 2004. In Rivera’s three seasons, the Bears ranked 13th, first and third in the NFL in points allowed. But he was fired — technically, not rehired — by Smith in favor of linebackers coach Bob Babich after Rivera’s contract was up.

Rivera became the linebackers coach with the San Diego Chargers in 2007, then their defensive coordinator in 2008 before the Panthers hired him to replace John Fox after last season.

He returns with no hard feelings, he said.

‘‘Nope,’’ he told Carolina reporters Monday. ‘‘The situation was, he didn’t hire me. The nice thing was, when it all went down, I asked him [if it was] a personal thing. He said, ‘No. It was a football decision.’ So it was time to move on.’’

Rivera, a reserve on the 1985 Super Bowl team who played for the Bears from 1984 to ’92, isn’t downplaying the return to Chicago.

‘‘I’m excited about it,’’ he said. ‘‘People say it’s just another game. It’s not. They’re all big. But this one has personal meaning for me because it’s Chicago — a great city with a great organization. The city’s embraced and been great to me. I look forward to coming up there.’’

Ron who?

Predictably, Smith isn’t as excited about the reunion.

‘‘We’re excited about playing the Carolina Panthers,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t think Ron is going to be out there, but his team is doing a heck of a job. Their record is the same as ours right now. It’s a football game we both need to win.’’

Welcome, rookie

Rivera’s Panthers are 1-2 but have one of the best young players in football in rookie quarterback Cam Newton, the No. 1 overall pick who has thrown for 1,012 yards in his first three games. After throwing for 422 and 432 yards in losses to the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers, the 6-5, 248-pound Newton threw for 158 in a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

‘‘It’ll be a challenge for our team,’’ said Smith, whose team has allowed 295 passing yards per game. ‘‘We don’t play many teams who get off the bus and their quarterback looks like Julius Peppers. We’re excited about that.’’

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