Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera spent Friday meeting for several hours with Chargers President Dean Spanos and general manager A.J. Smith about their team’s head coaching job. Rivera, who talked with the Packers and Rams last off-season, interviewed this year for jobs with the Cardinals, Falcons, Cowboys, Dolphins and Steelers before this latest trip. “I was a little disappointed not getting the Dallas job, but this one opening up was exciting,” Rivera said. “It creates a great opportunity. Whoever gets the job is going to inherit a very good football team. “To me the guy who comes in has to realize what needs to be done and what doesn’t need to be done. It’s about maintaining what they’ve accomplished and what they’ve built more than it is coming in and changing things for the sake of change.” The Chargers, for all of their offensive firepower in quarterback Philip Rivers and running back LaDainian Tomlinson, have drawn most of their coaching candidates from the defensive side. Perhaps in a subconscious reaction to Marty Schottenheimer’s failure to get a powerhouse team to the Super Bowl, rings appear to be suitable attire for those at the top of the Chargers’ list. The first four interviewed – Rivera, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, former Rivera teammate and 49ers assistant head coach/defense Mike Singletary and 49ers offensive coordinator Norv Turner – all earned rings. Insiders believe Ryan is the Chargers’ leading prospect. Ryan was the Ravens’ defensive line coach in 2000 when the team won its Super Bowl. He currently runs the 3-4 defense favored by Smith, although his Super Bowl ring was won with a defense using a four-man line. The New England Patriots designated Asante Samuel as their franchise player Friday in a move that would keep the cornerback with the team for at least one more season. The 26-year-old has played in 59 regular-season and 11 playoff games with New England since being drafted in 2003, and would have been an unrestricted free agent if the Patriots hadn’t designated him as their franchise player. Without the tag, the Patriots would not be compensated if he signed with another team. In an attempt to keep together their Super Bowl defense, the Chicago Bears designated linebacker Lance Briggs their franchise player Friday. Briggs would have become an unrestricted free agent March 2 if he didn’t reach a contract agreement with the Bears before then. The franchise tag means Chicago can keep Briggs by matching any offer sheet he might sign with another team. If they choose not to match another offer, the Bears would get the other team’s first-round draft picks in 2007 and 2008 as compensation. The Bears must pay Briggs $7.2 million for 2007, the average of the top five salaries at his position. Neither the Bears nor Briggs’ agent, Drew Rosenhaus, wanted to comment on the move Friday. Franchise tags Smith out Going into the season Jamar Smith was one of the players on Illinois coach Bruce Weber’s VIP list but Friday his troubled season came to an early end. Weber announced the Illini will make their NCAA tournament drive without the sophomore guard. Smith was the driver of the car that slammed into a tree late Monday night. Passenger and teammate Brian Carlwell suffered a concussion in the crash and initially was in critical condition at Urbana’s Carle Foundation Hospital Carlwell’s condition improved steadily as the week progressed and the freshman backup center was released from the hospital Friday afternoon. Weber said “Brian’s best-case scenario” would be to return for next month’s Big Ten tournament at the United Center. “That’s if everything goes right,” Weber added. “We have to be very cautious.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!