Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder introduced his new head coach, Ron Rivera, on Thursday and said he was changing the way the team has been run. Power, he said, would no longer come from the team owner, president or general manager.
“We’re going to have one voice and one voice alone, and that’s going to be the coach’s,” Snyder said.
Rivera said Snyder told him in meetings over the past few weeks that he wanted the Redskins to be more like the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks, franchises where the coach has much of the final say about which players to sign, draft, cut and play.
While Rivera tried to insist he wouldn’t be “omnipotent” and would work collaboratively with the other football executives, it was clear Snyder hired him to be the most powerful person in the team’s facility.
Rivera said Snyder has "explored the reasons why some teams win and some teams don’t.”
“He told me the common factor in that transitional success, of teams like the Patriots, the Seahawks and the Chiefs and some of the other ones, was the decision to take it and make it a coach-centered approach,” Rivera told reporters. “Not an owner-centered approach or a team president or a GM but a coach-centered approach.”
Snyder has granted some form of this power before to former coaches Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan. But aside from Gibbs, who went to the playoffs twice during his second run as Redskins coach, the structure did not work well, with Schottenheimer being fired after one season and Shanahan after four.
This time, though, Snyder suggested the approach would be different. In a brief opening statement introducing Rivera, who was fired last month after 8½ years as Carolina Panthers coach, Snyder said the franchise needed “a culture change,” someone “who could bring a winning culture,” and had decided that the new culture “starts and ends with our head coach.”
Left unclear was how the new structure would work. Rivera said he wants to meet with current football executives, including vice presidents Doug Williams, who serves as general manager, and Eric Schaffer, the primary negotiator and salary cap expert, as well as college scouting director Kyle Smith and pro scouting director Alex Santos, to see how they will fit together. Neither he nor Snyder would say whether all four would be kept or what their roles would be.
Snyder and Rivera also did not say whether Snyder would hire a general manager to fill the role played by Bruce Allen, who was fired last week, and if so who that would be.
“I want to work hand in hand with the head of player personnel to spot potential and others that even I didn’t see and others didn’t see,” Rivera said when asked about who will make player decisions. “That’s going to be important. It has to be a collaboration, no matter who it is, no matter who is working with us.”
Snyder, who was said to have spent weeks meeting with a small group of advisers outside the Redskins organization to discuss the team’s future, first approached Rivera’s agent, Frank Bauer, four days after the Panthers fired Rivera on Dec. 3. Two days after that initial contact, Snyder and Rivera spoke for 40 minutes. The next day they talked for another 20.
It was during those two conversations Snyder and Rivera decided they could work together, people with knowledge of the talks said.
Rivera acquired the tapes from six Redskins games this season, including the one in which Washington beat his Panthers — a loss that led to his firing the next day. He said he was impressed with the Redskins players and admired the way they kept fighting through what would become a 3-13 season, refusing to give up when the playoffs had long stopped being a possibility.
“That was impressive to me,” Rivera said.
The two men talked more in the ensuing weeks, becoming more enthused as Snyder laid out a plan for a coach-centered organization. The ultimate discussions took place over what Rivera described as “35 hours” in a particularly frigid room at a Snyder home. There, they discussed every aspect of the team and how things would be run. After those talks, Rivera began preparing to become the Redskins’ coach.
With the job now his, Rivera, 57, talked repeatedly Thursday about discipline. He talked about coming from a military family — his father was an Army officer — and how he wanted to bring the same sense of order and structure to his team. He cringed at the words “coach-centric” and said he wants the team to be “player-centric” but added that he will demand the players follow his plan.
Aside from new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who already was at work in his office Thursday, Rivera didn’t announce any assistant coach hires. A person with knowledge of the situation said current offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell “is still working things out” with Rivera. In his news conference, Rivera said he has contacted several potential assistants and has gotten permission from other teams to talk to some of their coaches.
He refused to anoint Dwayne Haskins as the starting quarterback, referring to “a couple of good veteran quarterbacks” he would “give some opportunities to play,” though he did not say who those quarterbacks are. Both Colt McCoy and Case Keenum, the two veterans on the current roster, have expiring contracts. The status of former starter Alex Smith, who is recovering from the gruesome leg injury he suffered in November 2018, remains uncertain.
“I think first of all he’s going to have to step up and become a leader,” Rivera said about Haskins, the team’s top draft choice this past April. “All the great ones become leaders. They become leaders whether they are rookies or 10- or 12-year veterans, but you got to step up and you got to be where you need to be. You got to do some things that you are supposed to do.”
But the biggest news Thursday was the power Rivera apparently has been given despite the uncertainty of how the rest of the front office will be organized. When asked why he believe things will work out better for him than Schottenheimer and Shanahan, Rivera paused.
“Nobody really knows, but I’ll say this: I believe in me, and I will bet on me,” Rivera said. “We’ll see what happens. That’s all I can tell you. I will give you one thing: I will work. I will work very hard. I will do the things that I believe, and I will stay true to who I am.”
Rivera, who helped develop former No. 1 pick Cam Newton into an MVP-winning quarterback in Carolina, was asked for his thoughts on Redskins rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
“I think he can become a franchise-style quarterback,” Rivera said. “I really do. It’s a process, though. I’m not going to say it’s going to happen overnight. Several years ago, we drafted a guy as the No. 1 pick, and we had a plan. What we’re trying to do right now is develop that plan for his development as we go forward. I also think there’s a couple of good veteran quarterbacks that are going to get an opportunity to play as well. We won’t know until we get ready to open up in September. Until then, everything is a process.”
When friends asked Rivera what he would look for in his next coaching opportunity after he was fired by the Panthers in December, he said he simply replied, “fit.”
He became convinced the Redskins were the right fit after multiple meetings with Snyder, and phone calls that started almost immediately after he lost his job.
“We went through every aspect of the organization,” Rivera said. ” … I spent a lot of time getting to know the organization. I talked about my plan and what I wanted to do.”
Rivera recalled visiting RFK Stadium during his playing days with the Bears and discussed a desire to restore that level of excitement among a fan base that hasn’t seen a playoff win since the 2005 season.
“I understand they’re disgruntled, I understand they’re upset,” he said. “We haven’t won.”
When asked about the makeup of his staff, including whether offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell would be retained, Rivera said he’s in the interview process right now.
“We’re in the beginning of it, and it’s going to take a little bit of time,” he said.
Rivera also stressed a need for discipline.
“Things will begin and end with one simple principle: Discipline,” said Rivera, who went 76-63-1 in nine seasons with the Panthers before being fired in December. “I come from a military family where discipline, it isn’t taught; it’s lived. It’s expected from Day One. I have a philosophy that every player, every coach, everyone who works for this organization, they’ll know it from Day One. You’re not going to play for this team, you’re not going to work for this team if you don’t have the discipline and commitment to give us everything you have. No exceptions, no excuses.”
Rivera began his remarks by explaining why he chose to take the job in Washington.
“It’s not about the money. If I wanted the money, I’d still be out there trying to pit a couple of teams against each other,” said Rivera, whose name was also mentioned in connection with other NFL coaching jobs. “I took this job for one simple reason, because Dan Snyder came to me with a very interesting perspective. For weeks, he’s explored the reasons why some teams win and some teams don’t. He told me the common factor in that transitional success — of teams like the Patriots, the Seahawks and the Chiefs and some of the other ones — was the decision to take it and make it 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 had to be a player-centered culture, something I truly do believe in.”
Rivera went on to say he’s impressed with the mix of young talent and veteran leadership on Washington’s roster, and that he doesn’t expect the turnaround to take long.
“I told them I don’t want to go through a five-year rebuilding process, because quite frankly I don’t have the patience,” Rivera said. ” … [Snyder] said ‘Coach, I want this to be the last job you have in the NFL. I want you to go from coaching the Redskins to collecting Social Security.’ I turn 58 next week, so I said that sounds pretty good to me.”
Darrell Green, Ken Harvey and Rickey Ervins are among the former Redskins Park for Ron Rivera’s introduction. Several of Rivera’s new players, including Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson and Jonathan Allen, are seated in the front row, along with his new defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio. Other notables in attendance include Redskins quarterback Alex Smith, director of pro personnel Alex Santos, senior vice president of player personnel Doug Williams and, of course, owner Daniel Snyder.
Rivera was 76-63-1 in nine seasons with the Panthers, including four playoff berths and one trip to the Super Bowl, before being fired after a loss to the Redskins on Dec. 1. He replaces interim coach Bill Callahan, who went 3-8 after taking over for the fired Jay Gruden in October.
“I think it’s pretty tremendous to be able to come and be part of something that’s very special,” Rivera said when he arrived at Redskins Park on Thursday morning. “This is an organization that started in 1932, so there’s a tremendous amount of history, a tremendous amount of winning history. I would love to be able to follow in the steps of somebody as well known as Joe Gibbs. I just love that opportunity, so I’m really excited about it, being here.”
The Panthers gave Rivera his first head coaching job after a nine-year NFL career as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears and 15 years as an assistant coach with the Bears, Eagles and Chargers. The son of an Army officer from Puerto Rico, Rivera was a consensus all-American at Cal in 1983 and a second-round pick of the Bears the following year. He won a Super Bowl as a member of Chicago’s vaunted defense in January, 1986. With quarterback Cam Newton leading the way, Rivera’s Panthers went 15-1 in 2015 before losing to the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
“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.”