Washington Redskins About to Get Much-Needed Culture Change with Ron Rivera

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 31, 2019

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera speaks after an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in New Orleans. The Saints defeated the Panthers 34-31. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Butch Dill/Associated Press

When you feel the need to declare that your organization's culture is "damn good," said culture is probably damn bad. 

The Washington Redskins have been an embarrassment for the vast majority of this century, and when team president Bruce Allen spoke of that supposed "damn good" culture in October, he further embarrassed himself and his employer. 

At the time, the Redskins were 0-5. They hadn't—and still haven't—won a playoff game since 2005, and they hadn't—and still haven'tsniffed the postseason since 2015. Their star left tackle, Trent Williams, was—and still is—refusing to play after he felt the team's medical staff mistreated him, and the front office mistakenly called his bluff.

Attendance, which had plummeted in recent seasons, was not—and still isn't—improving. And the team had just fired its seventh head coach since the turn of the century. 

Everyone knew even Allen didn't believe what he was saying. And three months later, maligned team owner Daniel Snyder has essentially confirmed that even he didn't buy it. Allen is gone, and now Snyder is smartly doing his best to completely overhaul that damn good—but actually bad—culture. 

Hiring Ron Rivera would be a hell of a start. 

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Monday that, "barring unforeseen developments," the Redskins will hire the well-respected, likable and experienced former Carolina Panther to be their next head coach. And Rivera just might be the best man for this job. 

Mike McCarn/Associated Press

He's genuine, he's undramatic, and most critically, he's a damn good football coach. 

The 57-year-old is one of 12 coaches in NFL history with multiple Coach of the Year awards on his resume. His 2015 Super Bowl team in Carolina went 15-1 in one of the best regular-season performances of the decade before losing to the Denver Broncos, and he also won more than 10 games in 2013 and 2017. 

Tony Perkins @TonyPerkinsFMTV

Bruce Allen fired; Head of the training staff fired; Ron Rivera likely becoming the head coach; Dwayne Haskins reaching out to Trent Williams; the number two draft pick and Chase Young; I am NOT mad at/about the Redskins today!!! @Redskins #HTTR

The defensive-minded Rivera had five top-10 defenses in a six-year span between 2012 and 2017. And between 2013 and 2018, nobody in football recorded as many defensive takeaways as his Panthers. 

So why was he fired? The wheels basically fell off for a team that was annihilated by injuries in 2018 and spent 2019 without franchise quarterback Cam Newton. And while that doesn't excuse the fact Carolina went just 12-16 in Rivera's final season-and-a-half there, that's not a terrible record under those circumstances.

The reality is the Panthers' front office knew Rivera was a great coach, but they also knew it was time to move on. 

It says a lot about him that the team essentially eulogized him after letting him go. They praised him on social media, while his players roundly honored him. That's extremely rare these days, and it's an indication Rivera is one of the good ones. 

Tom Schad @Tom_Schad

Josh Norman, when asked if Redskins coaching candidate Ron Rivera would change the culture in Washington: "Everything that you see today would be different."

Redskins fans have to hope Rivera's approach to the game will rub off on a toxic organization and that the toxic organization won't poison Rivera. 

But that's beyond almost everyone's control. The key is that they're hiring the right guy. 

Rivera isn't a wild-card college coach with no NFL experience, he isn't a retread who hasn't gotten it right at multiple stops, and he isn't a washed-up legend stuck in his old ways. This isn't Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs 2.0 or Mike Shanahan. 

Consider how often successful head coaches fail in their first head-coaching roles. Bill Belichick, of course, but also Pete Carroll, Tom Coughlin and Shanahan himself, to name a quartet. 

Rivera had never been a head coach before taking the Carolina job in 2011, but he evolved significantly during his time with the Panthers. His now-straight-faced nickname, Riverboat Ron, was originally a tongue-in-cheek moniker because he finally started taking more chances after a few ultra-conservative years at the start of his tenure. 

Now, he's widely viewed as a progressive, instinctive and forward-thinking coach—one seemingly willing to embrace analytics and whatever else the future holds. 

John Keim @john_keim

Asked someone who used to be in the same organization as Rivera about what he thought: "He's frickin awesome. Very smart, intelligent, very good motivator."

Fans should be excited about the progress Rivera is potentially making during his hiatus from the game. He'll be more prepared for this job than he was in Carolina, which could be a tremendous omen for what's to come. 

Nothing's guaranteed in this league, but this is the type of move that gives hope the Allen era will eventually be reflected on as rock bottom. The Redskins were the league's fourth-losingest team during his 10-year tenure in the front office, and average attendance at FedExField dropped from 83,172 in his first season to 65,488 in his last one.

But if the Redskins let him, Rivera can reset the culture in Washington. A great coach has the power to rejuvenate an entire organization, and he has it in him. 

If the Redskins lock him up and hand him the reins, there's a good chance they'll soon tell us they're "damn good." And when they say that, we won't be compelled to snicker. 


Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.