Rivera holds nothing against Smith

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- You couldn't blame Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera if he resented new Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith.

As the head coach of the Chicago Bears, Smith didn't renew Rivera's contract as defensive coordinator after the 2006 season. Rivera had to take a job as linebackers coach at San Diego the next year and rebuild his resume.

But Rivera says it never was a situation where he was bitter or angry with Smith. And he had nothing but praise for Smith getting the Tampa Bay job.

He even offered to share a text Smith sent him when Carolina was struggling at 1-3 to prove the two have remained friends.

"He texted me and wished me the best and told me, 'Hey, get it rolling.'" Rivera said Thursday as the Panthers (12-4) enjoyed a bye-week practice. "As we got it rolling he texted me back and congratulated me and congratulated me when we won the division."

But Rivera said there are people in the Chicago area that seemingly want there to be issues between him and Smith.

"This is a professional business," Rivera said. "It's a very tough business. The big thing is if you keep this business, in my opinion, in perspective to what it is and stay focused on what it truly is and what it truly is about, you come out of this a better person.

"But if you get caught up in all that stuff and don't realize what it's about, you sour yourself."

Rivera admitted he was disappointed when Smith let him go after the Bears went 13-3 during the regular season and lost 29-17 to the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl.

"I would have loved to have stayed in Chicago," Rivera said. "Chicago at that point had been my home. I had been there 16 years. I started my coaching career there, I played there and we went to a Super Bowl.

"But the decision was made. The discussion that Coach and I had was this was not a personal thing. This was something he wanted to do and it was a direction he wanted to head. So I lived with it and moved on. It's never been an issue."

Rivera had nothing but good things to say about Tampa Bay's decision to hire Smith, which means the two will face each other twice a year in the NFC South.

"It means Tampa Bay has a very good football coach who has a very good track record is what it means," Rivera said. "They are a good football team. I've always felt they were a good football team. Now they have a guy who has been to the big stage and knows what it's going to take.

"He helps make their football team better already."

He reiterated that the relationship with Smith is "solid and good."

"Now, do we hope to beat them?" Rivera asked. "Absolutely."

You definitely can't blame him for that.