CHICAGO -- After having what he called "a great interview" with general manager Mike Rizzo, Bobby Valentine was surprised when the Nationals chose Jim Riggleman, removing the interim tag from his manager's title on Thursday.

Valentine and Riggleman were among the finalists for the position, which had been open since Manny Acta was dismissed on July 13, Rizzo had said at the General Managers Meetings in Chicago earlier this week.

"I had a great interview with Mike about two weeks ago, and we really hit it off," Valentine told MLB.com on Thursday morning in a phone interview. "Then I never heard anything. There has been no contact or explanations. I'm pretty sure they had Jim in their back pockets the whole time."

Rizzo said he came away impressed with his interview with Valentine.

"Bobby Valentine was extremely impressive," Rizzo said. "He was very [vocal] and is baseball knowledgeable. He is an extremely bright person in general. He has great baseball acumen."

Asked if Valentine fell short on anything, Rizzo said, "None whatsoever. He was a very attractive candidate. I just felt he wasn't the right guy for me at this time. I just felt that Jim was the right guy for the job."

Since Valentine returned from Japan in October after his tenure managing the Chiba Lotte Marines, he's joined ESPN as an analyst and has interviewed for managerial openings in Cleveland and Washington. Acta was named the Indians' manager last month.

Valentine, the former skipper of the Rangers and Mets, managed the Marines of Japan's Pacific League for six seasons.

Valentine said he believed that when Rizzo took the time to meet him in Westchester County, N.Y., for the interview as Rizzo was flying back from Chicago to Washington, it represented serious interest. Rizzo replaced GM Jim Bowden, who resigned during Spring Training, and was given the job permanently in August.

"He came to me," Valentine said. "This whole thing is pretty amazing, as far as I'm concerned. I don't even know if it's amazing. I can't figure it out. Maybe he just wanted to talk. ... I loved the guy [Rizzo]. I think Mike has done a very fine job. I know his family. I wanted to see if there's a fit there and if I could help him out.

"But the deeper you get into it, maybe it wasn't the right place for me after all. It's more than a rebuilding job there. They're going to need a lot of help. I truly hope it works out for them, because Mike is a really good person."

Rizzo spoke highly of Valentine earlier this week, expressing his respect for Valentine as a person and a baseball man. Rizzo also has the same admiration for Riggleman, who took over the Nationals after Acta was dismissed with a 26-61 record. Under Riggleman, they were 33-42, finishing with 103 losses -- the third-worst season in the 41-year history of the Montreal/Washington franchise.

Valentine somewhat rancorously departed the Mets in 2002, and after a year of on-air commentary, returned to Japan, where he had managed one season with Chiba Lotte in 1995 in between his stints with Texas and New York.

Though Valentine worked thousands of miles and time zones away, his exploits were well-chronicled. At the beginning of the season, Chiba management told him it would not renew his $3.9 million contract, making him a prime candidate for a big league comeback.

Valentine boasts a National League pennant in 2000 with the Mets and a .510 winning percentage (1,117-1,072) in 15 seasons. For Chiba Lotte, Valentine also enjoyed success, winning the 2005 Japan Series, the first time the Marines had accomplished that feat in 31 years.

Valentine said that he will now regroup and get ready for his TV analyst job.

"What I have to do now is get ready for next season," Valentine said, "and sound like I know what I'm talking about on ESPN."