- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS — Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith fielded more questions yesterday at the NFL Scouting Combine about his contract status and the departure of defensive coordinator Ron Rivera than about his team’s Super Bowl season.

The contract debacle is the fault of Chicago’s front office.

The Rivera debacle is Smith’s fault.

Smith has one season left on the four-year deal he signed in January 2004. He is scheduled to make an NFL-low $1.45 million next season, less than Washington Redskins assistants Gregg Williams ($2.4 million) and Al Saunders ($2 million). Negotiations between Smith’s camp and the Bears reportedly have stalled.

“My contract has been talked about quite a bit — I don’t know why,” Smith said. “Normally, guys have contracts and you work through your contract and go from there. I have a contract. I would like to be the Bears head football coach the rest of my career.

“With that, negotiations are going on. Hopefully in time, I can get a fair contract and we’ll move from there. I’ve been told by management that I’m wanted and of course, I’ve made it known that I would like to be the head coach there. To me, there’s no reason why we can’t get a contract done.”

Rivera’s contract expired earlier this month and even though he was in charge of a defense that ranked third and first, respectively, in points allowed the last two seasons, he was not retained. Rivera interviewed for several head coaching positions before and after the playoffs, but his deal was not renewed and he was hired as the San Diego Chargers linebackers coach.

Smith contends he and Rivera were on the same page.

Linebackers coach Bob Babich has been promoted to defensive coordinator.

“Our staff right now is in place,” Smith said. “Ron is an employee of someone else right now. I’ll talk as much as you like about our current staff, but I appreciate what Ron did for us last year. But he’s with San Diego now.”

Gibbs leftovers

Aside from addressing issues like free agency and the draft, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs talked about several other topics in an interview yesterday morning:

• On his grandson Taylor’s leukemia: “It took us all back. I’m one of the luckiest guys to afford to get him the best treatment where there are a lot of kids around the world that don’t have that opportunity. The first month was a tough deal.”

Gibbs has been told the cure rate for Taylor’s type of leukemia and age (2) is 85 to 90 percent.

• On quarterback Mark Brunell’s shoulder injury: “I knew nothing about it [until late in the season] because he didn’t say anything about it. I commented during practice when he was running the [scout] team that his arm looked fresh and alive. With about a week or two left in the season, he said it was bothering him but said it was something he could throw with and play with.”

• On firing linebackers coach Dale Lindsey: “I felt it would be a good change for us. Moving Kirk [Olivadotti] over there, he’s worked extremely hard and the whole staff feels he’s talented.”

Used to comparisons

UTEP quarterback Jordan Palmer, the brother of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer and a projected Day 2 draft pick, says comparisons to his brother are inevitable.

“I’ll get into that more and more as I get into my career in the NFL,” he said. “It’s been a part of my whole career and my childhood, too, so it’s nothing different and it’s nothing different. He’s a great guy to be compared to and a great guy to be mentioned with.”

Jordan Palmer threw 81 touchdowns and 51 interceptions in three seasons at a starter.

Coughlin puzzled

New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin was puzzled by criticism from former running back Tiki Barber earlier this month.

Barber said Coughlin’s tough practices “took a toll” on the Giants late in the season.

“I don’t know what this is all about,” Coughlin said. “To give the illusion that I had something to do with his retirement, I don’t follow that. … that bothers me.”

Browns win toss

Cleveland won a coin toss with Tampa Bay yesterday to select third overall in the NFL Draft in April. The Browns are reportedly interested in LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell and the Buccaneers covet Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson.

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