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Recapping the Redskins’ front office and coaching changes

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind

Washington Redskins coach Ron Rivera Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

There have been a ton of reports about changes to both the Redskins front office and to the coaching staff; not all have been accurate. For example, there was an early report that the Director of Pro Personnel, Alex Santos had been fired. That report was pretty quickly denied, and Alex Santos was among those attending Ron Rivera’s introductory press conference on Thursday last week. Not long after, there was a rumor that Eric Schaffer had been fired; that rumor was quickly confirmed by JP Finlay, but within minutes there were conflicting reports, including one from John Keim who reported that he had spoken to Eric Schaffer, who stated that he was working at his desk. Clarity seemed to materialize quickly, as further reporting said that, while Schaffer will remain with the organization through the draft process, he will leave the Redskins in May. Eric Schaffer, for what it is worth, did not attend Rivera’s introductory press conference.

With so much going on, and in light of the often conflicting reports, it seems like a good time to take a breath and look at where we are at the moment.

Firstly, we are in the midst of a confusing time that still lacks a lot of clarity. Unconfirmed reports are exactly that — unconfirmed. Until a move is announced by the Redskins, it is simply a rumor or a report from someone who has a source. As we have seen from the reports on Santos and Schaffer, unconfirmed reports can be unreliable.

Secondly, we don’t really know what the final structure of the Redskins front office will look like. For the past couple of years, the Redskins have operated with a President, and without a General Manager. At the moment, the team has neither.

We haven’t been told whether Bruce Allen’s former position will be retained or filled, and there’s been no news about whether the team will create a General Manager position, which has either been vacant or simply hasn’t existed since Scot McCloughan was fired.

Thirdly, the coaching staff structure is likely to be quite similar to what it was under Gruden, though there may be changes. For example, this season the team employed separate coaches for inside and outside linebackers. With the change to a base 4-3 defense, there will likely be only a single linebackers coach. Further, Gruden employed offensive assistants — Bill Cavanaugh was the best known. That practice may or may not continue under Ron Rivera. Additionally, Sam Mills III, who is reported to have been interviewed for the DL coach position, worked with Ron Rivera in Carolina where one of his responsibilities was to act as the game management coach. Reports indicate that he would likely have similar responsibilities here in Washington, though I am not aware of Jay Gruden or Bill Callahan having ever identified a game management coach.

So, while the coaching staff structure is likely to be similar, it will not be identical. There will not be a one-for-one replacement of position coaches.

In the chart below, I have attempted to organize the situation for both front office and coaches — both of which are in flux — in a way that makes sense.

So far, only two new hires have been confirmed (that is, announced) by the Redskins: Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio, although a number of moves have been strongly reported as being decided upon already. There are a number of decisions that will need to be made upon which I haven’t yet seen any definitive reports — the most high-profile of which is the offensive coordinator position.

Bruce Allen’s previous position has not been filled. I thought earlier that Eric Schaffer might be in line for a promotion to that spot, but reports indicate he is actually leaving the organization. At this point, I think there will be a front office re-organization in which Bruce Allen’s position remains unfilled or is eliminated, and that the front office will come under the control of a General Manager. I have no basis for that belief — it is a mere hunch.

Doug Williams
Williams is a popular figure with fans. I imagine that, whatever the structure is that emerges, the former Redskins Super Bowl MVP will have a job at Ashburn as long as he wants to keep showing up to the office. Again, this is simply my personal opinion.

Eric Schaffer
Via the Hogs Haven blog, I’ve probably done as much as anyone over the past two or three years to get Eric Schaffer’s name out in front of fans. He is reportedly leaving in May, and a recent report says that Rob Rogers, formerly of the Panthers, has been interviewed and is expected to be the guy who would fill Schaffer’s role as the “cap guru” if he were hired.

Relying on twitter reports, Scott Jennings recently published information that Schaffer had been offered an extension a while back that he did not sign, and that the issue was “finances”.

Schaffer is well regarded in the Redskins organization and externally, and should have no trouble securing a high-level position with another franchise.

Alex Santos / Kyle Smith
The guys in charge of college scouting and pro personnel may find themselves in competition with each other as well as one or more external candidates for the spot of General Manager, if it is created. One or both of these guys could potentially decide to leave the organization if they don’t get a promotion this off season.

Expect information on this to be sparse until post-draft. There’s nothing unusual in the Redskins holding onto Schaffer, Santos, Smith and the rest of the personnel group (including assistants and scouts) until the draft is complete — in fact, that’s the norm among NFL teams. Coaches are fired immediately after the season ends, and coaching staffs are restructured in January. The personnel and scouting departments undergo firing/resignations/reorganizations in May, after the completion of the draft; that’s just how it usually is.

Some readers may remember that, when Scot McCloughan was hired in January 2015, there was an expectation that he would re-organize the personnel staff in the front office following the 2015 draft to bring in his own people — something he never did.

The fact that Santos and Smith are here now, I believe, shouldn’t be taken as a sign that they will stay here into the 2020 season. We’re probably 4 months away from learning what will happen there.

Head Athletic Trainer
The former head athletic trainer, Larry Hess, has definitely been fired. It seems that Ryan Vermillion, formerly of the Panthers, will replace him.

8:00 am UPDATE: Redskins announce that Ryan Vermillion has been hired.

Coaching Staff

There seems to be a lot more clarity with the coaching staff than with the front office as regards structure, but there are a number of positional coaching spots that we haven’t really heard about.

Obviously, Ron Rivera is the new head coach, and the Redskins have announced that Jack Del Rio is the new defensive coordinator.

There have been multiple reports that Nate Kaczor will be retained as special teams coordinator.

There seems to be a lot of mystery, or at least uncertainty, about the offensive coordinator position. Redskins fans have been very conscious of Kevin O’Connell this season — largely due to an off-season article that touted him as the next great young Redskins coodinator/position coach, following the path blazed by Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay and Matt LeFleur. Because of that, expectations have been high for O’Connell, and many people are nervous that, if he is allowed to leave, he will go on to find similar success as a coordinator and head coach in the future as the three coaches named above. This has led a certain portion of the fan base to vocally support retaining him as the offensive coordinator.

One factor at work to support this is the nervousness some fans feel when they see the head coach, Ron Rivera, filling out his staff largely with people he worked with previously in Carolina. I think fans are reacting to two things. One is the caution of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Just because the overall coaching staff failed, the thought goes, doesn’t mean that no one at all is worthy of being retained, especially our young golden boy.

The second thing has to do with what we here on Hogs Haven have come to refer to as “tapedicking” — that is the decade-long history of people being hired to the Redskins who traced their association with Bruce Allen back to his days in Tampa Bay. Because that didn’t work out well, fans are nervous about seeing this cronyism (not nepotism) come into play again.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Ron Rivera “getting the band back together” in DC. It is how the NFL usually works. In fact, in my experience, it’s how most business relationships work. When people start out on a new venture — like a head coach taking over a losing franchise — he wants the help of friends and colleagues who understand their vision, his way of doing things, and the culture that he wants to instill. Having a staff that the coach knows and is comfortable with gets him ahead of the curve.

In my opinion, it would be unreasonable to expect Ron Rivera to do otherwise. I was, in fact, pretty impressed that he hired Jack Del Rio as the DC, given that the two of them have, to the best of my knowledge, never worked together before. If he has, indeed, held onto Nate Kaczor, that would be at least two out of the three coordinator positions that would be filled by people not from Rivera’s past associations, which is fairly surprising.

I think Redskins fans have got to expect most of the position coaches to be people that Rivera knows and has worked with. Again, this is pretty standard for any guy hired to be a head coach in the NFL.

Final word

This article and the chart I’ve prepared should not be treated as unquestioned reference material regarding the Redskins’ organizational changes. It is a patchwork of reports that I have seen, and I may well have missed some or misread some.

I do think there’s value in this article, though, as an opportunity to stop, take a breath, and assess where we think we are. We’ve heard about an awful lot of change since the firing of Bruce Allen was annouced at 7 a.m. last Monday.

Who knows how much more change we’ll hear about by next Monday?