Press Box: Ron Rivera era brings a fresh start for Redskins

Illustration by Ricardo Rodriguez

Ben Malakoff, Contributing Writer

There were no high expectations for the Washington Redskins entering the 2019 season. Coach Jay Gruden was still leading the team, team president Bruce Allen ran the front office and team owner Dan Snyder continued to make the final calls on major team decisions, despite being ridiculed as one of the worst owners in sports.

Washington won just a single playoff game since 2000, and the team went through eight head coaches during 2000-2019 and 12 quarterbacks in the last decade. 

There was a clear disconnect between the front office, the coaching staff and the players during almost every season for the past decade. Gruden was fired on Oct. 7, 2019, after an 0-5 start, finishing with a 35-50 record in Washington that began in 2014.

Hours after the firing, Allen stood at the podium unfazed. 

“The culture is actually damn good,” he said in a press conference on Oct. 7.

The Redskins finished the season 3-13 under interim head coach Bill Callahan. Allen was fired on Dec. 30 after logging 45 wins and 83 losses in his 10 years of running the team.

The last man standing once again was Snyder, who made his top priority finding a new head coach. Washington’s failing brand was pushing fans away from FedEx Field, and the team’s owner needed to hire an established NFL mind. 

Snyder got his man on New Year’s Eve when former Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera signed his contract, becoming the first minority Redskins head coach in history.

The Rivera hire should give hope to Redskins fans for the first time since Snyder brought back Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs in 2004. 

The first reason is Rivera’s resume. As a player, he won a Superbowl with the Chicago Bears in 1985 before retiring in 1992. He was then hired as the teams’ assistant coach in 1997.

In 2011, the Panthers hired Rivera to become their head coach. They finished first in the NFC South from 2013-15 including a 15-1 season in 2015 that ended with a loss in the Superbowl to the Denver Broncos. Rivera is also credited for the development of quarterback Cam Newton, who was named Rookie of the Year in 2011 and MVP in 2015.

“What the Redskins have needed is a culture change, someone that can bring a winning culture to our organization, and it starts and ends with our head coach,” Snyder said during Rivera’s introductory press conference on Jan. 2.

Rivera brings the leadership and culture change needed for the Redskins to become a competitive football team again. He’s notorious around the league for being a role model and someone who cares about his players on and off the field. 

He practically worked as the general manager during his first few days, hiring Jack Del Rio as the defensive coordinator and Scott Turner as the offensive coordinator. Rivera also fired some of the medical staff in hopes to bring back star offensive lineman Trent Williams, who left upset at the team when his cancer was misdiagnosed.

Rivera may have been acting as his own boss by controlling the position of GM, but Redskins fans should be relieved to hear it is not Snyder making the decisions by himself. Most will remember the rumors of Snyder controlling the Redskins’ most recent draft against the will of the front office. 

With Rivera in and with a culture change, the team can still succeed with Snyder as its owner. His input can’t affect football operations like it once did.

One of the main reasons Rivera accepted the position in Washington was because of the young talent. He’ll have the chance to develop quarterback Dwayne Haskins much like he did with Cam Newton. The coach is also defensive-minded with a lot of prospects like Montez Sweat, Jon Allen and Daron Payne, all of whom he could turn into future stars. 

The Redskins hold the second pick in the 2020 NFL draft. Waiting for them is defensive end Chase Young, a generational talent from Ohio State who is rumored to be one of Rivera and staff’s top picks.

The Rivera era in Washington has barely taken off, but Redskins fans can already begin to grasp the handles of hope for the first time in years. 

This offseason starts an investment in the future — Synder has hired Rivera not to immediately produce results on the field, but to bring this once well-respected organization out of its deep dark hole of failure and onto the right path for its future.

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