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4 top Washington Commanders coaching candidates to replace Ron Rivera

Washington Commanders, Ron Riera
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera joined the franchise in 2020 with the hopes he would set a new standard for one of the worst NFL teams in the last decade. Approaching the midway point of his third year with the team, it’s evident the culture isn’t changing and change is necessary if Washington ever wants to climb out from irrelevancy.

Expectations were high within the franchise coming into the season. Washington paid a steep price to acquire quarterback Carson Wentz and there was plenty of confidence within the organization he could be the long-term starter. Rivera brought defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio back, despite his comments that the Jan. 6 riot in 2021 was a ‘dust-up’ and the defense’s alarming regression from 2020 to ’21.

Related: Washington Commanders schedule

Instead of emerging as a playoff contender, the Commanders find themselves at the bottom of NFL power rankings and they seem destined for one of their worst seasons in years. All of this is from a head coach who removed pool tables from the locker room when he took over as part of his effort to change the culture.

  • Ron Rivera record (Washington Commanders): 15-23

Washington went 7-9 in Rivera’s first season at the helm, the same record they achieved twice under Jay Gruden. While it was good enough to win the NFC East, that same record ranked seventh in the conference that season and Washington finished 14th in point differential (+6). A year later, a 7-10 record kept the Commanders out of the NFL playoffs and it ranked 25th in point differential (-99).

This now marks the fifth time in 12 seasons that a Rivera-coached team started the year with a 1-4 record, per Matthew Paras, and none of the clubs ever made the playoffs. Entering Week 6, Washington is at the bottom of the NFL standings and has the second-worst point differential (-38). After nearly 40 games, there are more than enough signs that changes are necessary.

Here are four Washington Commanders coaching candidates who should be targeted once Ron Rivera is fired.

Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

There are few things fans would love more than to steal from the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones adores defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and if Mike McCarthy is fired, he’ll be a strong candidate to take over as head coach. With Dallas playing so well, though, Quinn will likely take another opportunity to handle the reigns of an NFL team and his work speaks for itself.

  • Dan Quinn coaching record: 43-42

Related: Why the Carson Wentz trade is already a failure for Washington Commanders

Quinn’s stint as the Atlanta Falcons head coach is clouded by how things ended, with the organization firing him after an 0-5 start in 2020. However, that roster quickly became a shell of what it used to be (29-19 in the first three seasons) because of poor salary-cap management. The 52-year-old coach is beloved by players, he was a finalist to be the Denver Broncos head coach and he does phenomenal work with defenses.

Dallas Cowboys defense by seasonsTotal YPG AllowedPPG AllowedPressure RateDefensive DVOAYards per Play Allowed
2020386.4 (23rd)29.6 (28th)22.8% (19th)23rd (6%)5.9 (23rd)
2021351 (19th)21.1 (7th)27.6% (4th)2nd (-15.2%)5.5 (21st)
2022311.4 (7th)14.4 (3rd)27.6% (3rd)5th (-15.3%)4.7 (6th)
Statistics via Pro Football Reference and Football Outsiders

Considering how much the Washington Commanders have infested in their defense, this is exactly the type of coach Daniel Snyder should want to work with Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, Chase Young, Kamren Curl and Jamin Davis. Making the Cowboys’ defense weaker and fixing a big part of the Commanders’ issues, it’s a perfect outcome.

Ken Dorsey, Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Many wondered how the Buffalo Bills offense would fare after Brian Daboll became the New York Giants head coach. In their first five games in 2021, Buffalo’s offense averaged 410.4 total yards per contest with a 49.3% third-down conversion rate and quarterback Josh Allen had a 12-2 TD-INT ratio with a 102.5 quarterback rating. Through five games this season Buffalo averaged 440.4 total ypg with a 55.7% third-down conversion rate and Allen leads the NFL in passing yards (1,651) and touchdowns (14).

The NFL MVP candidate certainly deserves to be recognized for his outstanding level of play. However, Dorsey is stepping into Daboll’s shoes as the play-caller and this unit hasn’t lost a step. It’s also important to look at his track record. He served as quarterback coach during Cam Newton’s MVP season in 2015. Dorsey became Buffalo’s quarterbacks’ coach in 2019, working with Allen in his second season. If Washington opts to hire an offensive-minded head coach, Dorsey should be one of the leading candidates.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines head coach

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Commanders might want to make a splash with their next head coach. This is an organization that is in desperate need of someone with a long track record of success at multiple stops. While Jim Harbaugh certainly comes with his warts – burning bridges with the San Francisco 49ers organization – NFL teams want him every year for a reason.

San Francisco went 44-19-1 with Harbaugh at the helm reaching the Super Bowl once and winning five playoff games in his first three seasons. Internal drama and injuries played a key role in the 8-8 finish that pushed him out the door, but he left with many around the league confident he would keep having success. At Michigan, Harbaugh has turned the Wolverines back into a College Football Playoff contender.

Snyder could make this job more appealing to Harbaugh. It would start by making him one of the highest-paid NFL coaches, offering him a much larger salary and a better contract than he currently has at Michigan. The title of head coach would also come with the responsibilities of helping build this roster, getting to hand-pick the next quarterback and working alongside general manager Martin Mayhew. The incentives might be strong enough to get Harbaugh back in the NFL.

Related: Brian Robinson receives standing ovation from Washington Commanders crowd in NFL debut

DeMeco Ryans, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

One of our favorite NFL coaching candidates for 2023, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is the most valuable member of that coaching staff right now and that includes Kyle Shanahan. We highlighted what he has done with San Franciso’s defense in our Carolina Panthers coaching candidates list, so our focus here will be on why Ryans fits Washington.

Related: Takeaways from latest Washington Commanders’ loss

At a time when the NFL is still facing criticism for racial discrimination in its hiring practices, with many teams not bringing on persons of color who are quality candidates, the Commanders seem to be handling things a bit differently. Jason Wright became the first Black team president in NFL history and Mayhew is one of just five Black general managers in the NFL. It creates an environment where Ryans is more likely to not be looked past.

As mentioned previously, the talent on Washington’s roster also fits what Ryans is doing in San Francisco. The Commanders’ defensive line can be one of the best in the NFL with the right coach and Ryans is the person who could get the most out of this group. How a front office allocates the salary cap is an indicator of what they want their team to look like. With defense the focal point in Washington’s approach, Ryans is an ideal fit.

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