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Commanders fire coach Ron Rivera as new ownership begin making changes

Ron Rivera was fired Monday as coach of the Washington Commanders, a long-anticipated move new owners made as they put their stamp on the NFL franchise they bought last year.

It’s just the first of several changes coming to an organization that has won just two playoff games over the past three decades. The fourth and final season under Rivera finished with eight consecutive losses, a 4-13 record and a 38-10 home loss to division-rival Dallas with Washington’s home stadium full of Cowboys fans.

“Clearly, we weren’t good enough this year,” controlling owner Josh Harris said at a news conference at the team’s practice facility. “We didn’t get it done on the field, and so we’ve decided to go into a new direction.”

Rivera’s firing came as no surprise to anyone, including the veteran coach who went 26-40-1 with Washington, including one playoff appearance in 2020 for finishing atop an uncharacteristically weak NFC East at 7-9 and never having a winning season.

If Rivera does not get another head coaching job in the league, he’ll finish exactly one game under .500 at 102-103-2 in the regular season.

“We did win an NFC East title in 2020, but we fell short since then, and for that, I am truly disappointed,” Rivera said in a statement released by the team. “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.”

Co-owners Mitch Rales, Magic Johnson and David Blitzer and well as former NBA executive Bob Myers and ex-Minnesota Vikings GM Rick Spielman will work with Harris in the searches for a head of football personnel and coach. After Dan Snyder hired Rivera four years ago to do both jobs, ownership is now expected to split those responsibilities, though Harris said he’d be flexible given the candidates available — a group that could include Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh.

General manager Martin Mayhew and a majority of the front office and coaching staff are also expected to go, as Harris and his fellow owners begin shaping the organization less than six months after buying the team from Snyder. For now, they remain employed while the Commanders go through what Harris described as a “rapid but thorough process.”

“This is probably amongst the most important jobs I have as a managing partner,” Harris said. “It’s important that I do this personally and get this right and that we bring in the right leadership.”

Rivera was hired by Snyder on New Year’s Day 2020, less than a month after the veteran coach was fired by the Carolina Panthers, who he coached to the Super Bowl in the 2015 season. He was handed control in the aftermath of a chaotic era led by president Bruce Allen, which also included plenty of off-field misconduct that Rivera was forced to answer for as the voice of the organization.

Tumultuous times were the norm, from two team name changes to the allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace before Rivera’s arrival coming to light in the summer of 2020. Rivera was diagnosed with a form of skin cancer before that season started, and the well-respected former linebacker working through treatment became a source of inspiration for Washington when it made the playoffs.

“To be with somebody through a crucial part of their life and see how he battled that, that’s something you’ll never forget,” running back Antonio Gibson said. “And he was still there for us throughout that process, so we’ll always have love for him.”

Away from football, Snyder became the subject of multiple investigations before selling the team last year to Harris’ group for a record $6.05 billion.

Harris, Rales, Johnson and others buying the team put the focus back on football, to Rivera’s delight. Early in the season, he reveled in a debate about the team’s long snapper as a turning point after years of talk about the sagging attendance, off-field chaos and the ownership change.

Along the way, the play on the field went south after a 2-0 start: a 37-3 drubbing by Buffalo beginning a three-game skid capped by an embarrassing prime-time home loss to previously winless Chicago. The season snowballed to several new low points: a 31-19 defeat at the hands of undrafted rookie quarterback Tommy DeVito and the New York Giants, a 45-10 drubbing at Dallas and an embarrassing home loss to Miami that was fittingly followed by fire alarms going off around the stadium.

It became clear the Commanders were playing out the string. They lost their final eight games to finish 4-13 and are set to pick second in the NFL draft, a spot they could get a franchise quarterback.

Asked what he’s proudest of from his time in Washington, Rivera cited team culture and otherwise tried to block out talk about his uncertain future.

“To me it’s always been exciting, a thrill and a honor to be on the field in the NFL,” Rivera said last week. “There’s only 32 of these jobs, there’s only 32 of these teams and you always appreciate that opportunity.”

Players lauded his conduct throughout his final season, with receiver Terry McLaurin saying Rivera never brought a bad attitude and defensive tackle Daron Payne praising the coach’s optimism.

“Everybody in this building loves Ron Rivera as a person and all that,” left tackle Charles Leno said. “But when you’re the leader of a ship, somebody has to go down with it.”

Credit: AP

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