Questions such as: Can you name a single head coach who has had a good experience with this organization in the past 20 years?
Do you honestly expect to be able to operate in Ashburn without interference, spying, second-guessing and backstabbing?
Is Cleveland actually a better destination than Washington these days?
Will the owner really do what he says, or will he find a way to renege on anything not ironclad?
If Rivera is really about to donate his good reputation to this outfit, and he is not just using the Redskins as salary bait, owner Daniel Snyder will hopefully wrap him up fast — overnight. Before his agent can realize it’s malpractice not to see what other jobs come open and what the market is for a guy who won three division titles and reached the Super Bowl with the Carolina Panthers. Before the reality can fully sink in that, for all of the early promise of Dwayne Haskins and some nice young wide receivers, this is arguably the worst team in the NFL. A team that could not win a single game in the NFC East — the weakest, unwinningest division in pro football. A franchise with an outlook that is as bleak as that of any in the league, thanks to its owner’s two-decade history of coach-killing dysfunction.
The summary after their 47-16, season-ending loss to the disappointing 8-8 Dallas Cowboys was not good. Along with the finality of their 3-13 record came the recognition that their only victories came against teams that also finished dead last in their divisions — and, by the way, who doesn’t feel that the teams they beat (the Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers) are in better shape going forward?
As interim coach Bill Callahan said, this was a team that “needed more consistency, continuity and work ethic” when Jay Gruden was fired at 0-5, and it failed to produce any of those things.
It’s no pleasure to be so pessimistic about the Redskins, especially given that they are so young, and as word comes that a coach of Rivera’s quality and intelligence is actually considering them. Hope duels with cynicism. You feel silly for giving into either, or for investing any emotion at all in a franchise that always raises anticipation and then drops fans on their heads. As Callahan said, you could make a case for the Redskins either being “way far away, or very close.”
The silly optimist in you says maybe this really, finally is a turning point. You hear that Eric Schaffer, the vice president of football operations, is a talented executive. Certainly the youth trend under him is reason for some optimism, especially players such as Steven Sims Jr., 22, and Hale Hentges, 23, the undrafted free agents whose receptions from Case Keenum enlivened an otherwise disheartening afternoon in Texas. Certainly, it’s a relief that Snyder appears to be walking in the dead opposite direction from retaining team president Bruce Allen, whose record was 62-97-1 for the decade.
But then again, the realist-pessimist says the Redskins’ cycles have been so dishearteningly repetitive that it never pays to predict things will get better, or to buy into any new man in the building. So many times, the roster has been remade and management has promised a fresh start under a strong new coaching hand.
Which is precisely why the Redskins couldn’t afford to go through a drawn-out, conventional coaching search, why they had to grab at Rivera, still stung from his midseason firing by the Panthers, and grab hard.
The last time the Redskins were at the bottom of a cycle like this one, they went through a humiliating, chaotic failed search that ended with hiring Jim Zorn after first bringing him in as offensive coordinator. Remember 2008, when Snyder went through a secretive, exhaustive interview process at his home, talking for hours on end to Jim Fassel, Steve Mariucci, Jim Mora, Ron Meeks, Jim Schwartz, Gregg Williams and Pete Carroll? The organization’s reputation was so poor, you’ll recall, that Steve Spagnuolo rejected it to stay with the New York Giants as a coordinator and wait for another opening.
Once the game of musical chairs starts, the Redskins inevitably look like a less desirable choice compared to other teams and risk being left seatless. Small wonder they appeared to be working so intently to secure Rivera and make an announcement on the very first Monday after the season before the carousel could even begin to spin.
Maybe Rivera will be the man who can finally survive and thrive in the toxic air of Ashburn, without winding up trashed and damaged. Maybe he’s that much better than Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer and Mike Shanahan. Maybe he’s the guy who can fix the consistent, central weakness in the Redskins’ organization, the owner’s tycoon mentality, his assumption that he can purchase wins with paycheck players and presto coaching solutions. Maybe he’s the guy who can finally instill the qualities that actually make for Super Bowl champions, namely good faith, loyalty, patience. Maybe this time, and this man, will be different from all the others. There’s really no choice but to hope so.
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