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Fan confidence gets a boost as the Redskins coaching staff takes shape

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NFL: Preseason-Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Redskins fans confidence, as measured by FanPulse, only moved above 50% once in 2019, and that was immediately after the draft, when people were feeling good about Dwayne Haskins, Montez Sweat and others. Of course, that was before we heard about Trent Williams, and before Reuben Foster was lost for the season due to injury.

What unfolded was the ugliest season of Redskins football in my memory. I was alive in 1961 when the Redskins won only a single game, but I have no memory of it. Maybe that was worse, but it’s hard to imagine how any season could have been more of a clusterฟาขห์ than 2019 turned out to be.

Fan confidence plummeted, dropping to absolute zero on a couple of occasions. It showed some signs of life as Haskins showed some signs of development down the stretch, not even falling off when the Redskins went 0-3 against division opponents to close out the season — but the increase was relative. By Week 17, fan confidence stood at just 12%.

That all changed with the firing of Bruce Allen. Just a week ago, we saw fan confidence jump to 42% amid reports that Ron Rivera seemed ready to accept the head coaching job.

The reported developments of the past week — primarily the hiring of most of Rivera’s coaching staff, along with some news about the front office and the Athletic Training Department — has spurred another jump in fan confidence, this time to 55%.

For the first time since the post-draft excitement, more than 50% of the Redskins fan base is expressing confidence about the future of the franchise.

There are many factors at play here. The initial burst was almost certainly driven by the fact of Bruce Allen being unceremoniously fired on the morning after the Redskins lost the final game of the season. However, that optimism was fueled by the hiring of Ron Rivera — a respected coach with a strong history — and the subsequent announcement of Jack Del Rio as the defensive coordinator.

There has been some angst, however, as fans saw what they perceived as the construction of the “Washington Panthers” as more and more ex-Carolina personnel were added, especially the large number hired to Rivera’s coaching staff. Also, Redskins fans, having seen young offensive coaches like Shanahan, LaFleur and McVay leave DC to have success with other franchises, feared losing Kevin O’Connell, whom many perceive to be cast from the same mold, only to see him enjoy success elsewhere in the future.

We entered an odd phase where fans who had spend weeks, months or even years screaming for the coaching staff to be fired were suddenly bemoaning the loss of their personal favorites and the heavy influx of coaches with Carolina associations.

Scott Turner, son of former Redskins coach Norv Turner, being named to replace O’Connell seems to be the lightning rod for most of the vocal criticism. Many people have voiced the opinion that he’s no more qualified than Kevin O’Connell and wondering if this is an actual improvement or just Ron Rivera working inside his zone of comfort.

In response, the folks at Redskins Park seem to have tried to blitz the news cycle with reminders that Scott Turner is a local boy who grew up next to Redskins Park and want to Oakton High School.

This might be smart strategy for dealing with a fan base that hadn’t just ended the Bruce-Allen-son-of-George-Allen experience. As it is, the Redskins may just have to prepare themselves for a tough slog in terms of fan acceptance of a change at OC that didn’t result in a clear and unquestioned upgrade.

Much of this concern, of course, has to do with the perceived effect on the development of Dwayne Haskins. In 2018, he was running the Ohio State offense. By all accounts, he struggled to learn the Gruden offense in 2019, but by the final month of the season, under the tutelage of O’Connell and QB coach Tim Rattay, Haskins appeared to be making huge strides. He will now be asked to learn a new offense for the 2020 season, and responsibility for that rests with a young offensive coordinator with a pretty thin resume.

Many people are pointing to the hiring of yet another second-generation coach, Ken Zampese, who will replace Rattay as Haskins position coach. The 52-year-old has spent 30 years in the coaching profession, and was in Cleveland as the QB coach in Baker Mayfield’s impressive rookie season. The hope is that this seasoned coach will be able to help Haskins develop his game quickly as the Redskins move into the future.

Many indications are good for the franchise. We have a new and highly respected coach who is bringing a new culture to replace the old one, which was reportedly “damned good”. The owner, Dan Snyder, has stepped back and promised that this will be a coach-centric organization driven by Ron Rivera. Changes have been made to the Athletic Training staff and there is talk of the organization mending fences with Tent Williams and getting him back on the field in a Redskins uniform this season.

There’s a lot of reason for optimism.

But Redskins fans have seen this movie before, and, so far, it’s never had a happy ending. That’s likely why 45% of fans surveyed did not express confidence in the direction of the Redskins.

That confidence will have to be earned, and I suspect it will be given grudgingly.