Redskins fans are a jaded group, constantly reminding each other that they’ve heard it all before and to be wary of the newest snake oil on offer. There’s good reason, too. In the past quarter of a century, there’s a distinguished list of names of people that have come and gone, each one with his reputation seemingly a little more tarnished upon departure than on arrival: Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Mike Shanahan, Jay Gruden, and even, to a degree, Joe Gibbs. Each in his turn arrived with smiles and high expectations. Each, except for St. Joe, left in a cloud of frustration, anger and malcontentment.
Not one of those coaches managed a winning record in his tenure in the stretch from 1994 to 2019. Only two of them managed a playoff win. Success has been as rare as hen’s teeth for this franchise since the day the Richie Pettibon was first handed the reigns in 1993.
Beyond merely losing a lot of football games, the franchise has been plagued by a series of gaffes and fumbles off the field that have been documented by many journalists and commented on by many fans.
Some of the latest bumbles and stumbles have included the king’s ransom of draft picks traded for RG3, only to see him destroy his knee and end up sidelined in the final year of his rookie contract; the $36m cap penalty that, combined with the loss of draft picks from the Griffin trade, left the team’s roster depleted for years; an uncomfortable deal with the City of Richmond Virginia in which the Redskins get paid to hold training camp in Virginia’s capital city even as the crowds attending the annual camp dwindle; an embarrassing news story about a photo shoot with Redskins cheerleaders on a Caribbean Island that raised eyebrows; the short-lived tenure of Scot McCloughan, who was hired as GM despite a known drinking problem, then fired and subjected to a media smear campaign; and a similar short-lived stint for Brian LaFemina, a well-respected professional with long experience in promoting the NFL fan experience, who parted ways with the Redskins suddenly and apparently acrimoniously just ten months after being wooed and hired to a high profile role, tasked with improving the organization’s relationship with its fans. Of course, the 2019 season was marred by, among other things, the lengthy holdout of star player Trent Williams, who blamed the Redskins and their training and medical staff for downplaying a medical condition that turned out to be a cancerous growth on his scalp. Believing that he nearly died because of their lack of concern for him, Williams stated publicly that he planned never to play for the Redskins again.
This is just a small sample of losing off the field that has typified the Redskins for the past two decades. The list goes on and on. It really does.
Trent Williams made it clear that he did not blame the entire organization for what happened to him. He seemed to hold the owner, Dan Snyder, blameless — at least initially. Further, TW expressed no bad feelings towards his teammates or coaches. His targets seemed to be limited to the training and medical staff, and towards the team President, Bruce Allen.
In this, Trent was much like most Redskins fans, who, over the past several years, have increasingly come to identify Allen as the common enemy and organizational cancer that needed to be excised in order to save the patient.
Twenty years of dysfunction off the field and too few winning season on it, with the past ten years having been under the “leadership” of Bruce Allen, had led to an erosion of support from fans, who voted with their feet. Attendance at Redskins home games has dropped to such a nadir that visiting fans routinely outnumber those wearing burgundy and gold.
It’s all been a sad saga that has been written about time and again, always with the same sad outcome.
Thus, it’s hard to excite the passions of the Redskins faithful, who’ve been promised a bright future time and again, as one savior after another has been brought in, either as a coach or in the front office, only to see each in his turn leave without achieving the hoped-for and promised success.
Redskins fans are world-weary and cynical, and they have the right to be.
We’ve all heard the folk wisdom: “once bitten, twice shy”, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” and the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Redskins fans have been figuratively bitten so many times that their spirit seems to have been nearly devoured. They’ve trusted and been fooled so many times that the messenger isn’t just shot, he’s machine-gunned before he ever arrives with the message.
Redskins fans have heard it and they don’t want to hear it again.
That’s why this week has been so...incredible.
Redskins Public Enemy Number One — the most demonized man in Washington DC — Bruce Allen, was unceremoniously fired on Monday without a word of thanks for his ten years of employment with the Redskins, and the move was almost universally welcomed and applauded.
‘Not enough, though,’ said the fans.
Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and most or all of his staff was let go (without any public announcement).
‘That’s a good step, but not enough, still,’ said the fans.
Head Trainer, Larry Hess, who has been a target for a while, but especially in the wake of the Trent Williams imbroglio, was let go despite his 17-year tenure.
Murmers were heard from fans, who began to sense that this time Dan Snyder seemed to be serious about making sweeping changes.
The reports of change at Redskins Park have come fast and furiously over recent days; sometimes so fast & furiously that the details are muddled or wrong. But it quickly became clear that we are undergoing the biggest reorganization of the Redskins, its front office and coaching staff — and perhaps its philosophy and culture — that we’ve seen since the last change of ownership in 1999.
Probably all of those things together would not have been enough to restore any confidence to this beaten-down fan base. Sure, it felt good to see some people — especially Bruce Allen and Greg Manusky — be held accountable, but none of that brought hope for the future.
We certainly expected that it would be difficult to put a bright future together. We’d heard from plenty of people that the Redskins head coaching job is the worst job in the NFL. Nobody who had choices would ever come here. We’d be lucky to re-hire Jim Zorn.
This sinking ship couldn’t be saved.
Nothing could rescue us from dysfunction and disaster.
And then came Ron Rivera.
Riverboat Ron was the first coach hired in the NFL after the end of the 2019 season. He became the Redskins’ 29th head coach, dating from Lud Way in 1932, less than 48 hours after the whistle blew on the Redskins’ final game of the 2019 season.
Rivera had been expected to be one of the most sought-after candidates this off-season. Many believed he’d have his pick of jobs.
So, when it became clear that the Redskins had landed him as their new head coach, it raised eyebrows around the league and raised spirits among the Redskins faithful.
It didn’t take fans long to embrace their new coach.
In fact, only as long as it takes to fire up the screen printer and start producing tee shirts and hoodies.
The news of Rivera’s hiring was met with a wave of optimism and welcome surprise that seems to be energizing the deflated fan base.
In this week’s FanPulse polling, which took place mostly on Monday and Tuesday, when the hiring had been reported, but when few details were certain, Redskins fan confidence leapt more than three-fold, from last week’s level of 12% to 42% this week. That 350% jump in fan confidence was driven largely by the news that Bruce Allen was gone combined with rumors that Rivera was expected to interview for the Redskins job on Monday night or Tuesday morning.
I am convinced that we will see a huge upward spike in the polling results next week, now that Rivera’s hiring has been made official and fans have had a chance to absorb the likely impact on the franchise.
Thursday’s press conference was particularly powerful, with Rivera’s calm intensity and focus a sharp contrast to Jay Gruden’s typical sarcasm and dry wit, or Bruce Allen’s quasi-political arrogant buffoonery, so recently on display.
There’s a new sherriff in town, who uses words like “collaboration”, “discipline” and “accountability” with equal enthusiasm.
The first announced hire to Rivera’s coaching staff was Jack Del Rio as defensive coordinator. The hire is notable for many reasons, not the least of which is Del Rio’s track record as a DC. The two coaches, despite never having worked together before, seem to be cut from the same cloth and to coach with a similar style. There’s a certain gravitas combined with under-the-surface animal fury that both men seem to possess. With the Redskins’ group of talented defensive players being molded into a new unit with this type of coaching, anything seems possible.
Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio’s defense lining up Week 1 pic.twitter.com/X6yXSBuXZB— Hogs Haven (@HogsHaven) December 31, 2019
The fact that Rivera hired someone who isn’t a crony from his last team, and someone with age and experience to rival his own also seems to speak volumes about his commitment to find the best staff, no matter where they come from, and to be unafraid of someone on his staff outshining him.
Rivera seems to be all about winning, and Redskins fans seem to suddenly expect the good news to keep on coming.
Suddenly, there seems to be a place for hope in the lives of Redskins fans.
While fans of the Redskins and the division-winning and playoff-bound Eagles were on the rise (BGN reader confidence rose from 65% to 77% this week), the fan confidence of the other two franchises in our division is low or falling.
With the mid-week firing of head coach Pat Shurmer likely but still uncertain at the time of the early-week poll, Giants fan confidence fell from 57% to 54%, while Cowboys fans registered just 8% on the confidence meter as Jerry and Stephen Jones left Jason Garrett twisting in the wind, and Cowboys fans uncertain about the future of the troubled franchise.
The injured and underperforming Eagles seem long shots for the playoffs, and the NFC East division appears to be headed for another long and difficult season in 2020. There’s plenty of bad news to go around.
Meanwhile, in Washington DC, it feels like it’s all good news this week.
It feels like it might (really) be the start of something good this time.
Stay classy, Redskins fans.