Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera wants the organization and fan base to be patient. He preaches that building a winning culture takes time, he sold the franchise on a vision that everyone needs to buy into for the culture to be changed. After all, success isn’t going to happen in one night.
Rivera finds himself squarely on the hot seat this season, in a critical year three for head coaches. With the Commanders off to another rough start, sitting at the bottom of the NFC East as their rivals thrive, Washington’s head coach deflected the blame in a recent press conference. When asked by reporters about why other teams in the division are further ahead at this point, Rivera cited quarterback.
Putting aside the fact that a head coach essentially threw his quarterback under the bus, Rivera seems to have a poor grasp on the current state of the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. New York made the leap in 2022 because of a great coach, with first-year coach Brian Daboll unlocking the offense and his staff helping get the most out of a roster that is $19 million cheaper than Washington’s depth chart. As for Dallas, it’s won four consecutive games with a backup quarterback who didn’t make the initial 53-man roster and then came off the practice squad right before Week 1.
Related: Alex Smith calls out former coach Ron Rivera
Rivera later backtracked, defending the quarterback who he helped pick as Washington’s marquee offseason acquisition. He also defended Carson Wentz‘s play, ignoring the fact that Washington’s signal-caller ranks 24th in ESPN QBR (38.2) and grades as the 24th-best quarterback by Pro Football Focus.
The Commanders are likely going to stick with Wentz as their starting quarterback for the majority of the season – even if it means losing a 2023 second-round pick – because Rivera needs the starter who he trusts the most to save his job. It’s just part of the reason why it’s time for Washington to fire Ron Rivera.
“It’s not going to happen overnight” and likely never will
It’s not going to happen overnight is something the 60-year-old coach loves to remind everyone of about his way of building a team. Months into the job, Rivera asked fans to give him patience because his vision for the team would take years to build. Rivera wouldn’t put a time frame on exactly how long it would take, but 13 years of NFL coaching experience provide him with a first-hand look at that. However, he needed everyone to just be patient with him.
Related: Washington Commanders schedule
“The truth of the matter is there is no time frame, there really isn’t, but I do know that it’s got to happen soon, I can tell you that much. I understand I get that part of it. But it’s not going to happen overnight. What we need is we need everybody to come in and understand what the vision is and they’ve got to buy into what the vision is going to be. Once they’ve done that, it gives us an opportunity to be successful.”Ron Rivera in April 2020 on turning Washington into a consistent winner (H/T NBC Sports Washington)
Washington made the playoffs in Rivera’s first season at the helm, hosting a game at FedEx Field. However, that postseason appearance came in a historically bad season for the NFC East. At 7-9, it finished 14th in the NFL standings and seventh in the conference with a +6 point differential that ranked 14th in the league.
The following season, Washington went into its Week 9 bye with a 2-6 record. Even if it scorched earth down the stretch, making the playoffs was extremely doubtful. Fully aware of the direction the team was headed, Rivera once again reverted to his favorite line.
In November 2021, he told ABC 7 News that overhauling a culture within an organization is a long-term process. Pointing to his time with the Carolina Panthers, supporters and personnel for an organization all need to be bought in. As he stated, “it gets darkest before it gets brightest,” his vision needed several years to be implemented before everything would come to fruition.
“Futility just doesn’t disappear overnight. To create a positive environment, it takes time, it’s not going to happen overnight.”Ron Rivera in 2021 on fixing a team’s culture and keeping everyone engaged
Rivera’s team finished with a 7-10 record, finishing a distant third in the NFC East with zero wins against the Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles. Fans were rightfully frustrated after consecutive losing seasons, but once again, perseverance and a willingness for everyone to keep buying into the plan was necessary for it to work.
The Commanders are now one of the worst teams in the NFL, entering Week 6 with a 1-4 record and at the bottom of the NFL power rankings. Just as alarming as the team’s record, it has the second-worst point differential (-38) through five games with both one of the worst offenses and defenses in football.
Before the Week 5 loss to the Tennessee Titans, Rivera understood the frustration of the fan base and those within the organization. But he wanted everyone to be realistic about what can be accomplished, he wasn’t panicking and he once again reiterated the same line to reporters.
It’s now been more than 1,000 nights since Washington hired Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and the results speak volumes.
- Ron Rivera record (Washington Commanders): 15-23
Ron Rivera’s loyalty only benefits his reputation
Loyalty is a fantastic quality in a person and even better in a friend, but it can’t be one of the defining qualities of a head coach. Rivera is renowned for how he treats people and the bonds he creates with players and coaches are lasting. It’s quite apparent that familiarity with certain people has shaped who Rivera surrounded himself with in Washington.
Related: Ron Rivera throws Carson Wentz under the bus
On the Commanders’ 53-man roster, there are nine players who suited up for Rivera at some point from 2011-’19 in Carolina. Among them; are quarterback Taylor Heinicke, wide receiver Curtis Samuel, offensive linemen Trai Turner, Andrew Norwell and Tyler Larsen, and linebackers Efe Obada and David Mayo. It’s been a trend every season, with plenty of others brought in during training camp.
It’s a similar story on the coaching staff. A year after leaving Carolina, Rivera still had 15 assistants in 2021 who coached with him at both stops. There was very little turnover in 2022, maintaining both the level of continuity and continuing the practice of nepotism after consecutive losing seasons.
Once a person has earned Rivera’s trust, they are very likely to stay in his good graces for a while. A telling example can be found with Del Rio. He never worked with Rivera until he became Washington’s defensive coordinator in 2020. It seemed like a risky hire, considering the defensive-minded coach was out of the NFL for several years. The Commanders’ defense looked good in the first year, but things have dropped off since.
|Season||Total YPG||PPG||Yards per Play||QB Rating||Pass DVOA||Opponent Points per Play|
|2020||316.5 (5th)||21.2 (5th)||4.9 (2nd)||81.4 (3rd)||-18% (2nd)||0.335 (3rd)|
|2021||359.3 (22nd)||25.5 (25th)||5.7 (26th)||100.8 (28th)||+18.9% (28th)||0.408 (26th)|
|2022||345.6 (17th)||25.6 (25th)||5.6 (18th)||103.7 (27th)||+20.6% (29th)||0.413 (26th)|
The regression from 2020 to 2021 was alarming, inciting calls for Del Rio to be replaced as defensive coordinator. Many saw a talent-rich defense with significant draft capital and cap space allocations that failed to do the fundamentals and failed in critical moments. However, Rivera chose to keep Del Rio around.
On a short leash, Del Rio then made offensive comments bu calling the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capital a ‘dust-up”. He also criticized those who protested nationwide in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Del Rio was one of the few active NFL coaches who argued against players peacefully protesting during the National Anthem.
Organizations want their most prominent figures to not bring unwanted attention that could damage their reputation or cause controversy. Del Rio did it multiples times and his comments this offseason came months after his defensive massively underperformed. Facing numerous calls for Del Rio to be fired, both for his comments and the defensive regression, Rivera kept Del Rio around.
Now, the Commanders’ defense remains one of its biggest problems and there are no signs of Washington’s head coach even considering a change. If loyalty to a coach he likes is responsible for that and he prevents him from making a decision that is in the team’s best interest, he shouldn’t be a head coach.
A track record that lacked context
Ron Rivera is well-respected across the football world, both for his accomplishments as a head coach in Carolina and his reputation as a person. However, it’s worth taking another look at exactly how the Panthers performed during his tenure.
Cam Newton helped carry the Panthers to Super Bowl 50, winning both NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. Rivera won NFL Coach of the Year because of that 15-1 regular season and Carolina’s defense allowed the sixth-fewest points (308, 19.3 PPG)) and total yards per game (322.9). As a defensive-minded head coach, Rivera earned plenty of credit. Although, it’s worth keeping in mind that Sean McDermott worked as Carolina’s defensive coordinator from 2011-’16.
After McDermott left, the Panthers’ defense steadily got worse with each passing year.
|Carolina Panthers defense by year||Points Allowed||Yards per Play Allowed||Total YPG Allowed|
|2017||327 (20.4 PPG)||5.3||317.1|
With Newton’s level of play and availability derailed by injuries, the Panthers delivered just one final winning season during River’s final three years in Carolina. He finished with a 76-63-1 record across nine years at the helm. If you take Newton’s outlier year out of the equation, Rivera’s record falls to 61-62-1 and he is on track for the ninth losing season in his 12 years as a head coach.
Rivera’s defensive mind has done nothing to help Washington even boast an average defense for more than a year now. As for some of the players he brought in out of loyalty, Pro Football Focus grades Norwell as the 52nd-ranked guard in the NFL this season and Trai Turner was already benched. It’s also evident the coaching staff, especially Del Rio, either aren’t getting through to the players or the message has grown stale.
Washington can’t keep waiting night after night for things to change. Rivera points to his turnaround in Carolina, but that team went from 13-19 in his first two seasons to 12-4 in year three. The Commanders are already at four losses through five games and they’ve given Rivera more than 1,000 nights to improve things. That’s more than enough time, it’s time for a change.