Washington Commanders

Ron Rivera fired as Commanders coach after four disappointing seasons

As far as the players and the games, Rivera’s tenure was rife with poor personnel moves and subpar coaching

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Though the task might have been impossible for most, Ron Rivera proved incapable of the turnaround in Washington he promised.

Commanders managing partner Josh Harris dismissed Rivera as head coach Monday and will look to rebuild the football operation on more stable footing.

“As we look ahead, we recognize the results this season were not good enough and a strategic shift in leadership and approach is necessary,” Harris said in a statement posted to social media.

Rivera said he appreciated the support of Washington’s fans, players, coaches and new ownership, and commented on his role ushering the team into a new era.

“As for Washington, it wasn’t easy and there is a lot more to be done, but I believe we began to change the culture of this organization in meaningful ways. And on a personal note, it has been one of the greatest honors of my career to serve this franchise and those who cheer it on every week,” Rivera said in a statement shared by the Commanders.

Harris said at a press conference Monday he wants to be thorough but rapid in the search to fill the two positions.

“We want it to be as quick as we can, but the ultimate goal, right, is to be an elite team that’s competing for championships,” Harris said. “Obviously, I want a winning franchise quickly. On the other hand, but, for me, it’s about making the right decisions.”

Harris said he’s assembling a small advisory committee to help him find a new head coach and head of football operations.

Watch Harris' full press conference below

After the Commanders fired Ron Rivera as head coach, owner Josh Harris is speaking about the effort to rebuild the team. "We weren't good enough this year, we didn't get it done on the field, so we've decided to go into a new direction," Harris said.

The committee will include Commanders co-owners Mitchell Rales, Magic Johnson and David Blitzer, along with Bob Myers and Rick Spielman, the former general managers of the Golden State Warriors and the Minnesota Vikings, respectively.

With Myers, Harris explained he isn’t looking for someone who understands the technical aspects of football. But Myers’ track record with the Warriors shows how he can build the leadership and structure to run a successful, multibillion-dollar business.

Meanwhile, Spielman knows how to operate at a high level in the NFL and build kind of the kind of perennial playoff team that Washington aspires to be.

“To deliver upon our ultimate goal of becoming an elite franchise and consistently competing for the Super Bowl, there is a lot to do and first we must establish a strong organizational infrastructure led by the industry’s best and most talented individuals,” Harris’ statement continued.

Throughout the day Monday, there were multiple reports from across the country of the Commanders asking permission from other teams to interview possible candidates for head of operations, general manager and head coach.

A name to keep in mind is Adam Peters, the assistant general manager in San Francisco, who spoke with Harris when the 49ers were in town a couple of weeks ago and who has a relationship with Myers.

The Washington Commanders have parted ways with head coach Ron Rivera after four disappointing seasons. News4's JP Finlay and Juliana Valencia have team coverage.

Ron Rivera's tenure with the Commanders

Rivera’s time in Washington must be explained in two facets: he admirably tried to steer a listing ship through choppy waters off the field, but granted full football authority, his decisions never resulted in enough wins to mandate he remain as football czar.

Arriving in 2020 fresh off of nine somewhat successful years in Carolina, Rivera pledged to rebuild Washington’s credibility on and off the field. Unfortunately, the off-field credibility wasn’t his to fix. That was anchored to former owner Dan Snyder, and only with his removal in July 2023 did that begin to change.

As far as the players and the games, Rivera’s tenure was rife with poor personnel moves and subpar coaching.

In his first three years at the helm, Rivera’s Washington teams treaded water, never finishing a season with a winning record and making just one playoff appearance. In his final season, the ship finally capsized, as the Commanders limped to a 4-13 finish.

In telling fashion, Washington will enter the 2024 NFL season with the second overall pick in the upcoming draft. That’s the same spot Rivera inherited when he took over the moribund franchise in 2020.

Despite a number of swings, Rivera never found his franchise quarterback. There were big swings (the terrible trade for Carson Wentz in 2022) and small swings (signing veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2021). Neither worked. Nor did the attempt at hoisting an entire franchise onto the back of second-year man Sam Howell this season.

Rivera will leave Washington with a reputation for being a nice man and respected worker, but not as a winner.

Known as a defensive mind, Washington’s defenses swung like a pendulum during his four seasons. In 2020 and 2022, the Washington defense finished ranked top-10 in the NFL’s most important statistical categories. In the odd years, 2021 and 2023, the defense cratered, finishing this season ranked dead last in points allowed and yards allowed. Jack Del Rio certainly deserves much blame, but who hired and stuck with the former defensive coordinator?

The Commanders loss to the Cowboys is likely to be the last time Ron Rivera coaches the team. News4’s Juliana Valencia shares fans' reactions to the end of the season.

Perhaps worse than Rivera’s win/loss record in Washington were the draft choices and free agent signings. Just about every move made by Rivera and crew ended up somewhere between disappointment and failure. There were some hits–second-year running back Brian Robinson looks like a real piece, and third-year guard Sam Cosmi had a real prospect at making the Pro Bowl–but by and large, this era of Washington football will be marked by a draft philosophy that eschewed conventional wisdom and resulted in mistakes.

Particularly damning to Rivera’s time as football boss is that going into this offseason, Washington’s best players are guys who were already here when he arrived in 2020. Star wide receiver Terry McLaurin was drafted in 2019, defensive lineman Daron Payne in 2018. That list, unfortunately, goes on and on.

For many coaches, it would be easy to point to a middling front office or a bad general manager as the cause for their demise. For Rivera, those excuses don’t hold water.

At his introductory press conference, Rivera proudly talked of the coach-centric plan to unfold in Washington. That meant he was in charge, he had final say, and he got to build the entire football operation as he saw fit.

In the end, that operation just wasn’t very good.

Was there bad luck along the way? Definitely.

Maybe 2021 goes differently if Fitzpatrick isn’t injured in the first week of the season. That seems an optimistic viewpoint, but it’s possible. At the same time, was it really reasonable to think a journeyman passer would take a 7-9 team to the next level?

The defining characteristic of Rivera’s time in Washington might be that there was no definition at all.

For example, when Washington closed 2022 at 8-8-1 and outside of the playoffs, the coach explained he had built a physical team that wanted to be a run-first offense. Then about six weeks later, Rivera hired Eric Bieniemy to come run his offense, and the former Chiefs offensive coordinator installed the most pass-happy design in the NFL.

It’s absolutely undeniable that Rivera faced more challenges in his time coaching Washington than most other coaches around the league. Nobody else dealt with COVID-19, two name changes, a personal battle with cancer and an owner under constant investigation by the league and even the United States Congress within a four-year span. Nobody else is likely ever to deal with circumstances like that again.

Still, Rivera chose this.

In poker terms, Rivera was certainly dealt a bad hand. But at the same time, he picked the table and knew who was dealing the cards. And eventually, when the cards hit felt, over and over he played them poorly.

Rivera might have explained it best himself in his final press conference from the team’s practice facility, saying he was too much of a manager and not enough of a coach.

On a national scale, Rivera’s name still resonates with respect. Locally that dwindled, because of the losses, sure, but sometimes also what seemed like consistent double talk, too.

Over time, perhaps that will change. Maybe it won’t. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

For Commanders fans, there’s a new beginning on the horizon. A beginning with a more traditional NFL power structure: general manager and head coach, working in unison where they can and with room for healthy disagreement along the way. That’s almost always proved the best way to build a winning franchise.

Ideally that results in wins. Not intangible, incalculable words like “culture” and “habits.” But real change that results in wins, playoff football and maybe a few parades down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Rivera is a good man, but that doesn’t mean he was the right man for the Washington job.

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