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Ron Rivera made it clear he didn’t need the money, nor did he need just any job.
After 34 years coaching, and four torturous weeks of unemployment, the veteran coach knew exactly what he wanted. Or better yet, who.
The Washington Redskins — an organization that has become synonymous with dysfunction and disarray — are now his personal reclamation project.
“There are only 32 of us at any given time, and these jobs are scarce,” Rivera said Thursday, at his introductory news conference. “The Washington Redskins, this one’s special.”
“Riverboat Ron” just made his biggest gamble. And for the sake of his reputation, one hopes he’s right.
The franchise ushered in a new day, unveiling Rivera as its new head coach in front of a jam-packed room featuring his newly hired defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, current and past Redskins players as well as team executives. Team owner Dan Snyder proudly stepped behind the lectern to announce this new era in Ashburn will be run much differently. It will begin with only one voice: Rivera’s.
The longtime coach chose to bet on himself, as any self-assured and self-respecting person would. Where others have failed — gifted minds like Joe Gibbs, Marty Schottenheimer and Mike Shanahan — Rivera is confident he will succeed.
“I believe in me,” said the coach, who turns 58 next week.
Though he repeatedly used the word “collaborative” during his introduction,
Rivera will be the focal point of authority. Praised as the ultimate locker room leader, he’ll bring a player-centric approach, one that entails a commitment to teaching players how to be better performers on the field and better men off of it. Accountability will be key. Having high standards is non-negotiable.
With this new position comes plenty of responsibility: Finding the right men to groom Dwayne Haskins Jr. into the franchise quarterback he was drafted to be, retooling a roster comprised of “raw talent” and “solid veteran leadership,” and facilitating a reunion with disgruntled offensive tackle Trent Williams.
This role also comes with a heavy burden of bringing respectability back to the Redskins. And that entails keeping Snyder out of his way.
Rivera is enamored with the history of the organization, which was established in 1932. He respects its past greatness as well as the players and coaches who have worn burgundy and gold before him. But these are not the ’Skins of old.
Despite Snyder’s deep affection for his beloved team, his poor leadership over the past 20 years has paved the way for Washington’s sad descent toward irrelevancy. He enabled the decision-making of former team president Bruce Allen for a decade and stood silently by as Allen declared three months ago that the organization had a “damn good” culture.
Snyder’s fingerprints are all over the mess the Redskins have become. But his hope is that Rivera can salvage the wreckage and eventually build a championship-caliber team.
In nine seasons with the Panthers, Rivera compiled a 76-63-1 record and twice was named NFL Coach of the Year. Most impressive of all: He has reached the Super Bowl.
With all of those accolades and with all of his experience, Rivera knew he had one pressing question to answer first.
“So why did I choose the Redskins?” he asked with a smile. “I can tell you right now it's not the money. If I wanted the money, I’d still be out there right now trying to pit a couple teams against each other.”
He said he took the job for “one simple reason.” Over “30-35 hours” of honest, self-reflective dialogue with Snyder, the owner expressed a desire to do things differently and he expressed an understanding of what sustains winning franchises like the Patriots, the Seahawks and the Chiefs. “Not an owner-centered approach or a team president or a GM, but a coach-centered approach,” Rivera explained.
In turn, the coach requested one condition from his soon-to-be boss.
“It would have to be a player-centered culture, something I truly do believe in,” Rivera said. “My response is to get the most out of the players, to work with them, to teach them, mentor them. If I have to do it one-by-one, I will most certainly will do it. … I was fortunate to have that in Carolina and I’ll work to have it here in Washington.”
He’s an old-school guy who preaches hard work and accountability, and also demands the most out of those around him. But during his time with the Panthers, he showed that he will defend his players like kin. Case in point: Quarterback Cam Newton.
That bodes well for Haskins, the inexperienced but raw-talented quarterback the Redskins drafted in the first round despite the wishes of Gruden. “I think he can become a franchise-style quarterback,” Rivera said. “… He’s going to have to step up and become a leader. All the great ones have become leaders and they’ve become leaders whether they’re rookies or they’re 10-, 12-year vets.”
Rivera believes there are foundational pieces already here. That’s why, instead of taking a year-long sabbatical or waiting to see how how the Giants’ and Browns’ coaching situations played out, he instead became intrigued by the prospect of coaching in Washington. His interest was piqued when Snyder reached out to his agent shortly after his dismissal from Carolina and over the course of their “in depth” conversations, the veteran coach knew for certain that this is where he belongs.
Now, all he has to do is cleanse the culture Snyder helped taint.
“This is the beginning of a great new year for the Redskins’ organization and its fans,” the owner said, after curiously wishing his audience, “Happy Thanksgiving.”
“… 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. When looking for that man, I look for a class act. And that’s how you describe Coach Rivera.”
In many ways, Rivera is everything Snyder isn’t. And that fact may very well save this franchise.
Hopefully, for Rivera’s sake, this gamble will be worth it in the end.
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