Three years to the day after he was introduced as Washington‘s new coach, Ron Rivera on Monday sat in a conference room inside the team’s facility and reflected on his tenure.
Looking back, after being eliminated from the playoffs for a second straight season, Rivera said he knows what his team is missing.
“The toughest thing is solidifying the QB1 spot,” Rivera said. “That’s the one position we have to solidify going forward.”
Rivera told reporters he had no regrets about starting quarterback Carson Wentz in Sunday’s 24-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns, reiterating he chose to bench Taylor Heinicke because he felt the team needed a spark to break out of an 0-2-1 skid. But the move didn’t work out. For Washington so far, none of Rivera’s attempts to solidify the most important position in football have worked.
If rookie Sam Howell starts Sunday’s season finale against the Dallas Cowboys — Rivera said he has yet to decide for that game — the fifth-rounder will be Rivera’s eighth starting quarterback in three years.
Under Rivera, Washington has tried a little of everything. Rivera has relied on the inherited first-rounder (Dwayne Haskins), the game manager (Alex Smith), the system signal-caller (Kyle Allen), the stopgap journeyman (Ryan Fitzpatrick), the unproven (Heinicke) and the high-profile offseason acquisition (Wentz) to cure the team’s woes under center.
The result has been three years without a winning season.
With that record of futility, it seems fair to wonder whether Rivera should get another opportunity to tackle Washington’s quarterback problem. But Rivera’s status is complicated by owner Dan Snyder’s potential sale of the team.
Would the embattled billionaire really fire Rivera and then hire a new coaching staff just months before a sale could be finalized? That, of course, assumes that Snyder believes a coaching change would even be necessary — and that’s far from guaranteed.
As much as Snyder cycled through coaches early into his ownership, Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden each got at least four years at the helm. Snyder stuck by executives Vinny Cerrato and Bruce Allen for even longer.
Rivera said “I think so” when asked if he will have full leeway to make changes this offseason despite a potential sale of the Commanders.
“Once we get done, I will most certainly be sitting down with ownership as it is and have a discussion about this, about the organization, and the direction and what we will be able to do going forward,” Rivera said.
There is a recent example in which a franchise made significant coaching changes with a sale looming. Last year, the Broncos fired Vic Fangio at the end of the 2021 season and hired Nathaniel Hackett in January — months before Walmart heir Rob Walton purchased the franchise for a record $4.65 billion. General manager George Paton led that coaching search and also made a seismic trade for quarterback Russell Wilson.
But Denver also serves as a cautionary tale, one that suggests Washington might be better served to wait until a sale is completed before making drastic changes. After all, Hackett, fired last month, didn’t even last a full season and Wilson’s struggles have put the Broncos in a horrific spot. CEO and co-owner Greg Penner told reporters last week the next coach would report directly to him, not Paton.
Rivera, too, is in a dramatically different position. Snyder installed him as Washington’s primary football decision-maker under a coach-centric approach. General manager Martin Mayhew, for example, reports to Rivera. Firing Rivera would figure to completely reset Washington’s structure.
That’s a scenario that seemed hard to imagine just weeks ago when Washington had won six of seven. But losses like Sunday’s to Cleveland — a team already mathematically eliminated — can change the conversation quickly.
Still, it would be a surprise to see Rivera fired after this season. And if he stays, he’ll have familiar issues to address.
“We’ll get an opportunity to sit down, talk about (quarterback) and evaluate it as a staff next week once it’s all said and done,” Rivera said.