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.”
Live updates below from Scott Allen.