If you were like us, you probably were more than intrigued two weeks ago when Urban Meyer showed up in the suite of Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to watch a game.
You might have seen the picture: Meyer was kibitzing with Redskins quarterback Alex Smith, his former QB at Utah. Maybe the two were talking about the cocktail shrimp, per chance what it might be like to be reunited in the NFL?
A fan base is allowed to dream, right?
Now we know it was just small talk. Another squandered season ended last Sunday with a loss to the Cowboys and instead of crushing it Monday by announcing the hiring of Meyer, word got out the Redskins were not only interested, but on the verge of signing Ron Rivera, the former coach of the Panthers.
Sports is a funny thing sometimes. If you listened to the talk coming out of Carolina after Rivera was fired, you heard about a loyal and widely respected coach who had lost touch of his team over the last two seasons. The Panthers were apparently so done with him. Yesterday’s news. Gone and soon to be forgotten.
And then without giving themselves a chance to interview what likely would have been a wide range of candidates from all walks of the coaching life, the Redskins quickly settled on Rivera. In fact, they tripped over themselves a few times racing to sign him.
“After several meetings with Coach Rivera, it was clear he is the right person to bring winning football back to Washington, D.C.,” Snyder said in a statement. “He is widely respected around the league as a man of great integrity and has proven to be one of the finest coaches in the country.”
Not only did the Redskins land Rivera, they signed Jack Del Rio, the former coach of the Jaguars and Raiders, to be their defensive coordinator.
By this time, you wonder why Rivera would even want to work with Snyder. The guy is obviously out of his mind, impossible to please and apparently hard to deal with. Rivera is the seventh coach to work for Snyder. And clues to be gleaned from that?
“So why did I choose the Redskins? I can tell you right now it’s not the money,” Rivera said during his introductory press conference Thursday. “If I wanted the money, I’d still be out there right now trying to pit a couple teams against each other. I took this job for one simple season: because Dan Snyder came to me with a very interesting perspective. The reasons why some teams win and some teams don’t. He told me the common factor in that transitional success [for] teams like Patriots, the Seahawks, the Chiefs some of the other ones -was the decision to take and make a coach-centered approach. Not an owner-centered approach or a team president or a GM but a coach-centered approach.
“I told Mr. Snyder that I appreciate the fact that he believes the head coach matters. I told him I would be honored but under one condition: it would have to be a player-centered culture, something I truly do believe in. 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’ve done it in the past and I’ll do it again. I’ll do what I can to help these young men become not just the players we want but the men in the community we need. These are the guys who can help change things not just on the football field but in this world. I really do believe that. I was fortunate to have that in Carolina and I’ll work to have it here in Washington.”
If history repeats itself, Snyder will demand Rivera immediately turn around a team that finished 3-13. And if it doesn’t happen, Snyder will be looking for No. 8.
We already know Snyder’s history. Let’s take a step back and look at Rivera’s run with the Panthers, who fired him on Dec. 3 with their record at 5-7.
He took over the Panthers in 2011 on the heels of a 2-14 season and four years later the team was 15-1 and NFC Champions. They lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
But in all his years, the Panthers made the playoffs only four times and had just three winning seasons. His career record was 76-63-1. Do the math when you subtract the 15-1 season. It places him under .500.
So what was Washington’s attraction to him? And what is his attraction to the Redskins? It’s all hard to understand.
Of course, with the Redskins he’ll inherent one of the youngest teams in the league and one which will apparently be led by Dwayne Haskins, the team’s first-round pick in 2019. Haskins was very shaky in his debut season and is going to require an innovative and patient approach as he moves forward with another coaching staff.
“I think he can become a franchise-style quarterback. I do,” Rivera said. “It’s a process, though. I’m not going to say it’s going to happen overnight, but I’ve been fortunate that several years ago, we drafted a guy as the No. 1 pick and we had planned. What we’re trying to do right now is develop that plan for his development as we go forward. Also I think there’s a couple of good veteran quarterbacks that obviously get some opportunities to play as well. We won’t know until we get ready to open up in September. So until then, everything is just a process. It’s a working process. We can’t get ahead. We’ve got to stay to the plan and make sure we’re preparing ourselves properly.”
Rivera is a defensive coach, and people skills aside, his greatest contribution in the near future will likely be made working with Del Rio to help re-shape the Redskins on that side of the ball. He was the Bears defensive coordinator under Lovie Smith when they went to the Super Bowl in 2006.
“I feel like you’ll see a difference,” Washington cornerback Josh Norman, who played for Rivera in Carolina for four years (2012-15), told The Athletic. “I’ll put it like that. From what you see now to what you’ll see if this is the case, it’ll be a night and day swap. I definitely know what that looks like.
“If I’m here, I’m super excited. It’s a new day I feel like, if that is the case. That’s for sure. I hope I’ll be a part of something like that. That’s special. That truly is something special, man. We had something special there (in Carolina) and now that you look back on it, you would think that sometimes you go back and replay it in your mind — there was so many changes.”
Although he reportedly hasn’t requested it, it appears Rivera will have more control over personnel now that Snyder has kicked general manager Bruce Allen out of the organization. You might see a situation that resembles what Andy Reid – a Rivera mentor – had with the Eagles and now with the Chiefs.
What’s clear is, Rivera has a lot of work ahead of him. The Redskins have won at least 10 games only three times since 1999, only twice in the millennium (2005 and 2012). Its only postseason win in the last 20 seasons was in the 2005 Wild Card round.
Do you think Redskins fans are growing impatient? Washington has seen the Capitals win the Stanley Cup, the Nationals take the World Series. Even the Mystics won the WNBA Championship last summer. The Redskins have had one winning season since going 10-6 in 2012.
Is Rivera the guy to change that? We’d rather have Meyer.