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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…
The 5 o’clock club is published several times per week during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
I’m not looking at this as a one-off article; I intend to write a series of fill-in-the-blank articles over the coming weeks: Who is ____________ and why should he be the next head coach of the Washington Redskins.
Today I’m looking at the recently fired head coach of the Carolina Panthers, Ron Rivera.
Click here to see other articles in the Who is ____________ and why should he be the next head coach group of articles
Per Pro Football Reference, this is his coaching history:
What I take from a quick review of this chart is that Rivera had a top-10 defense for three of the six years that he was a defensive coordinator — two in Chicago and one in San Diego.
As a head coach, it looks like it took him a couple of seasons to establish his team (in fact, the Panthers were 6-10 and 7-9 in his first two seasons) but then put a strong offense and a top tier defense on the field in 2013, when they went 12-4.
Ron Rivera’s defenses in CAR by DVOA:
— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) December 3, 2019
Rivera’s best team was clearly the 15-1 team from 2015 that went to the superbowl.
It looks like things changed for Rivera and the Panthers following the ‘17 season. Aside from continuing to put up good rushing numbers, both the offense and defense seem to have tailed off. The team posted a 7-9 record last season, and they were 5-7 when Rivera was fired following Carolina’s loss to the Redskins this week.
Obviously, Cam Newton’s health has been a concern for the Carolina franchise – certainly this season, but also in 2018 as well.
What else changed in Carolina after the 2017 season?
Well, first of all, Jerry Richardson, who had founded the team, sold it to the current owner, David Tepper. And it might be easy to overlook that — following the 2017 draft — GM Dave Gettleman was fired in July ‘17. He was replaced by Marty Hurney, who had been the Panthers’ GM from 2002 to 2012, and is back in his second stint.
Rivera’s most successful years, from 2013 to 2017, when they won three division championships, made 4 playoff appearances, and played in SuperBowl 50, corresponded both with Cam Newton’s most productive seasons and Gettleman’s tenure as GM.
It appears, then, that one off-the-field possibility is that Rivera may be out-of-step with the new-ish GM, Hurney, and the current owner, Tepper.
There is almost unanimous agreement, however, even from David Tepper, who just fired him, that Ron Rivera is an excellent coach and really good human being.
David Tepper explains why he decided to part ways with head coach Ron Rivera. pic.twitter.com/kRLw0VQL7z
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) December 3, 2019
Can interview immediately
One huge reason for the Redskins to look at Ron Rivera is the fact that he is available right now. The team can interview him without any concerns about violating the NFL’s anti-tampering rules, and at a time when any other team that might be interested in Rivera needs to be concerned about prematurely signaling their current coaching staff of changes by interviewing a high-profile potential replacement.
Everyone, that is, bar, perhaps, the New York Giants, who employ Dave Gettleman as the General Manager. Given their history together in Carolina, one would imagine that it would be no difficult chore for Gettleman, if he were considering replacing Pat Shurmer, to pick up the phone and gauge Rivera’s interest in coming to New York.
Here’s Mike Lombardo, of NJ.com:
That’s the reality when a second-year head coach has won just seven of his first 21 games and his team shows little sign of progress amid an eight-game skid.
It’s also the worst kept secret that the Giants would prefer not to fire Shurmur. Let’s be honest, if owner John Mara wanted to fire Shurmur midseason, there was plenty of justification to doing so after getting embarrassed at the Jets leading up to the bye three weeks ago.
However, is there anything that Shurmur can do to avoid his fate as the axe draws closer?
Short of the Giants winning out and finishing the season 6-10, it’s hard to imagine Shurmur leading the Giants out of the tunnel next fall.
The Redskins, of course, could interview Rivera tomorrow and trumpet it as a celebrated visit with no sneaking around required. But would Rivera be interested? He has certainly made it clear that he intends to continue coaching.
“Absolutely, my intent is to coach again,” Rivera told reporters Wednesday. “I love coaching. Not just coaching because it’s about winning football games, but coaching because you have an opportunity to impact young men and people. And that’s what I want to do.”
And he would likely be seen, at least by most fans, as an outstanding choice for the team. At 57, he is still young enough to project a sense of energy and enthusiasm, while being a steady sideline presence in games, and a model for players off the field and in the community.
But with the interest he is likely to get in the open market and his strong relationship with Dave Gettleman, there is a very real question of whether Ron Rivera would be interested in a partnership with Dan Snyder — especially one that might be a threesome involving Bruce Allen.
On the day I was traded to the @Panthers in 2011, every player who played for Ron in Chicago said the same thing to me on my way out. “You are going to play for a great coach, but a better man”.
I am so proud to have shared this 9 yr journey together with you @RiverboatRonHC
— Greg Olsen (@gregolsen88) December 4, 2019
‘River Boat Ron’ would likely be seen as a far cry from Jay Gruden, and he has a heck of a better resume than Bill Callahan.
Rivera is sure to get a lot of interest on the open market. He’s still a very good head coach and if teams like the Cowboys or Giants — who notably employ Dave Gettleman, once the GM of the Panthers — end up with vacancies, they will surely include Rivera on those lists. The ‘Skins need to beat them to the punch and should take a look at Rivera now, just to gauge what his interest would be in coming to coach the team.
Rivera has a history of success on Sundays (and Mondays & Thursdays)
Despite having just been fired from a 5-7 team, Rivera is not a failed head coach who would represent a compromise candidate for the Redskins ownership. Rather, he is a long-tenured head coach with a history of success who has arrived at an odd disjointed point in an otherwise strong career.
Rivera had a 76-63-1 record during his nine years with the Panthers and brought success to the franchise. He made four playoff appearances and took the 15-1 team to Super Bowl 50 during the 2015 season (and 2016 postseason). Unfortunately, the squad ran into the buzzsaw Broncos defense and wasn’t able to win. But still, Rivera’s coaching acumen can’t be questioned.
Rivera was able to get to that mark with Cam Newton injured to start the season and Kyle Allen eventually taking over. Given the up-and-down play of Allen, getting the team to a 5-5 mark in games that he played is certainly impressive.
That’s been a staple of Rivera’s teams. They play hard for him. The players genuinely seem to like him and are willing to give it their all as they look to win. That effort is something that the Redskins were lacking during the Jay Gruden era, so perhaps Rivera could instill some of that if he were to coach in Washington.
Ron Rivera says he was criticized by some for having his wife and daughter around the Panthers so much. But he told the players he was trying to set an example of how to treat your family✊ pic.twitter.com/ry6wEYap2d
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) December 4, 2019
And Rivera’s presence would certainly help the Redskins defense, a unit that has fallen well short of their expectations under Greg Manusky. Rivera could bring in his own system and a coordinator familiar with his scheme to execute it in Washington. And given the personnel the Redskins have, they could transform quickly.
Rivera is a strong leader who can develop players and culture
I’m not sure if it’s an oxymoron to suggest that someone is a disciplined players’ coach, but that’s the description that springs to mind when I think about Rivera.
Rivera has led a team with a young quarterback before (Cam Newton). He helped mold Newton into an MVP caliber player.
Washington currently has a young quarterback of their own in Dwayne Haskins. Now, Haskins is a different style than Newton. He’s much more of a pocket passer. Still, though, the Redskins need someone who can work with a young QB and Rivera has done that in the past.
Rivera is also a defensive guru. The Redskins have a lot of talent on defense, and they need someone that can put it all together for them. Rivera could help Cole Holcomb continue his rise into a great linebacker in the NFL.
He could also do wonders for Montez Sweat and that ridiculously talented defensive line. The secondary has a number of intriguing young pieces as well.
The Redskins have struggled for 25 years to find the right coach to take the team back to consistent winning seasons and playoff appearances. The organization has tried just about every type of offensive minded coach imaginable, and come up short every time. There’s a feeling that Ron Rivera could be the guy who would hit the ‘sweet spot’.
[H]e’s a smart head coach who was absolutely loved by his team but also commanded a ton of respect. Most importantly, he actually got his team to the playoffs and won a few games there.
The Redskins have not won a playoff game since the 2005 season (although the game was played on January 7, 2006).
Rivera would bring a winning pedigree, a ton of football knowledge, humility and respect. A lot of those things aren’t always prevalent in the Washington organization.
But will Dan Snyder hire a defensive-minded coach?
There is a question about whether Ron Rivera would be a good ‘fit’ in DC. After all, Dan Snyder has always leaned towards offensive-minded head coaches. That said, Washington has invested both draft capital and free agency dollars to build a fast, strong, aggressive defense, and Ron Rivera would likely know exactly what to do with a group of players that includes Landon Collins, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau, Reuben Foster, Montez Sweat, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis.
Despite Rivera posting a 76-63-1 record in nine seasons with Carolina and making a Super Bowl, he might not be the Redskins’ top choice because of his background as a defensive coach. Before Rivera took over the Panthers in 2011, he spent six seasons as a defensive coordinator with the Chargers and Bears.
“If you’re a smart football person, yes, you want a guy who has a bunch of stability and a guy who is defensive-minded,” Jones told 106.7 The Fan. “(The Redskins) go after offensive-minded coaches. They want points on the board, sexy names. I don’t know that Ron Rivera is sexy enough.”
Finlay said it’s unlikely Rivera, who is reportedly interested in coaching again, would be the Snyder’s top choice.
“There are always hot offensive coordinators that become ‘sexy’ names,” Finlay told Dukes Tuesday. “There’s this working theory in the NFL that you don’t want defensive-minded coaches, because then if your offensive coordinator has success, he leaves and then you’ve gotta start a new offense and that doesn’t allow for continuity.”
There’s also the question of whether Ron Rivera would consider coaching in Washington; after all, he’s likely to have several suitors.
NFC East rivals Dallas and the New York Giants might be ready to move on from Jason Garrett and Pat Shurmur, respectively. Either opening would be more attractive than Washington’s job as the franchise is currently constructed (i.e., with president Bruce Allen in charge).
Say what you will about the Cowboys and their egocentric owner/GM Jerry Jones, but they have 15 Pro Bowlers on the roster and the league’s highest revenue. The hottest candidate who’s willing to endure the brightest spotlight for the big splash and bigger paycheck (Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley?) will sign without hesitation.
Giants owner John Mara would be loath to fire Pat Shurmur (7-28) after two seasons, when the previous coach, Ben McAdoo (13-15), lasted less than two seasons. But the franchise offers stability for a steady hand; only Tom Coughlin and Jim Fassel coached the Giants from 1997-2015.
Other teams that could be on the market and be more appealing than Washington? Atlanta reached the Super Bowl three years ago. Jacksonville reached the AFC title game two years ago.
Rivera appears to be a well-rounded coach and an all-around good guy. He isn’t a failed “retread”, but a successful coach who seems to have gotten caught up in a lot of organizational change in Carolina. This is a guy who was standing on the sidelines of the super bowl, calling the shots just 4 years ago. Ron Rivera may be the most proven, high quality candidate available to teams looking for a head coach this year.
He is available to be interviewed right now… today. He wants to coach. While he is known as a players’ coach, he also has a reputation for old school discipline during the week, and being a risk-taker who makes gamedays exciting every week.
Rivera has successfully built a team around a young quarterback before, and seems to be able to pull people together in the locker room.
If the Redskins want to hire a proven winner with head coaching experience, I’m not sure that they can do any better than Riverboat Ron.