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Exploring Coach Rivera’s Week 14 post-game comments on Kyle Smith

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

After the Week 14 victory against the San Francisco 49ers, Coach Rivera held his usual, day after, post-game press conference. There were a variety of questions about stand out plays and players, as well as about the injuries and even the the Cleveland Indians impending name change.

The topic that grabbed my attention, though, was a question posed by Rhiannon Walker of the Athletic, mining a vein that has been explored by Ben Standig, JP Finlay, and others in the past week or so: The future of Vice President of Player Personnel, Kyle Smith, with the Washington Football Team.

The full press conference can be found below:

Walker asked:

“In terms of, you guys have really hit on a number of the free agents that you brought in, you know Antonio Gibson goes down, JD McKissic comes in, he has a career day. We’ve talked about Logan Thomas a lot, we’ve talked about the offensive line and things of that nature. I’m just curious, as you guys have gotten further into the season, and you’ve seen more of what players have done, that you, Kyle Smith, and the rest of the front office have brought in. I’m curious, what is your impression again, now looking back to what Kyle Smith did in the offseason to get these guys here and to help build this team that’s now 6-7.”

Rivera responded:

“You know, I think the biggest thing when you look at what’s happened, more so than anything else I’ve talked about is you have to continue to collaborate. You know people have to work together.

You’ve got to have this list of guys that you look at and from that list of guys, as coaches, once you get it from the scouting department, and they bring it to you, and you go through it, and you look at it, and you look at it, and you say, hey, this guy, this guy, this guy. These guys are fits. Um, ok, no this guy might be the better athlete, but this guy is the football fit. I mean, it’s like Logan Thomas. I talk about him because, having been with Pete Hoener (the TE coach) now for 10 years, and listened to him talk about tight ends, and then know his history as far as tight ends go. You know, when you talk about the All Pros he’s had, Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Greg Olsen, Gary Barnidge, he’s had a couple of good ones that he left in Carolina, and now you look at what’s happened with Logan, and the way Sprink has played for us, the way Tamarick has been playing for us, and Marcus Baugh. You sit there and, me personally, I listen to him. When he says to me, “Ron, I think this guy’s on the verge. He’s right there. He just hasn’t played a lot.”

And it brings me back to my days in Carolina in 2013 when Dave Gettleman and his guys came to us with a list and said, “Hey these, this, this, this.” And then, we as coaches looked at them, and Steve Wilks (the Panthers’ Defensive Coordinator) comes to me and he talks about a safety (Mike Mitchell), and says, “You know, Ron, this guy, he hasn’t played a lot, but everytime he gets on the field, he makes something happen.” And so we signed him for a one year deal, and sure enough, he played great. He had a great year for us and signs this huge contract with Pittsburgh. Those are the kind of guys you’re looking at.

JD McKissic was one of those guys that came on that list. And we looked at that list and thought, “Wow.” We looked at this list and thought yeah, “I like this guy.” And he’s on the verge. So you do that, and what happens is, you sign them at a good contract, and they become who you hope they are, and now the contract becomes favorable to you. That’s the huge plus. You know, offensive line, you want to talk about fit. Do they fit you?

The other thing too is - this goes to our security department - are these the kind of guys who fit you too. It’s not just about the fit on the football field. Are they going to be the right kind of fits in terms of the way they handle themselves off the field? That’s a big thing for us. We went through it in Carolina. We’ve gone through it a little bit here, and we want to correct those things. We want to make sure the culture is right.”

There’s a lot to unpack there, and true be told, when I first heard the press conference, I was left with the impression Rivera wasn’t completely sold on the value Smith was bringing to the table. I think that was the result of: 1) Him never mentioning Smith in his response to Walker’s initial request, and 2) Rivera going out of his way to name drop coaches (even a former coach), as well as his former GM, Gettleman.

Upon a bit more consideration, my perspective has changed. In Walker’s question, which was focused on Washington’s remarkable success with free agents this year, Rivera emphasizes the team effort, particularly the role that his coaches - to whom he clearly gives a lot of deference - play in culling lists of players provided by the front office.

“You’ve got to have this list of guys that you look at and from that list of guys, as coaches, once you get it from the scouting department, and they bring it to you, and you go through it, and you look at it, and you look at it, and you say, hey, this guy, this guy, this guy. These guys are fits.”

So here, Rivera is clearly giving credit to the scouting department, even if in a bit of an understated way, for doing a solid job of providing the coaching staff with the raw material to select from. He explicitly mentioned McKissic, later in the interview as “one of the guys that came on that list.” Clearly, with Rivera’s recognition of both Hoener and Wilks successfully plucking from those lists, he sees the input of his coaches as critical in making the final paring down of free agent (and presumably, draft) lists in order to assure the best team fit. He even recognizes the role of the “security department,” who, I can only assume, does the background checks on players to ensure they don’t have off-the-field red flags.

Though he never mentions Smith explicitly, he does compare him, indirectly, to one of his former General Managers, Dave Gettleman. I see this as the most positive sign for Smith in Rivera’s response. In Carolina, Gettleman, the GM, was the guy who “came to the coaches with a list.” In Washington, it’s Smith. In both places, Rivera and his coaches were successful culling through the raw material provided by their front offices.

Rather than a proverbial shot across Smith’s bow, or explicit snub, this feels like a tacit recognition that Rivera is pleased with the job that the front office is doing at evaluating talent, but that he also wants to send the message that, ultimately, the final decisionmaking is going to be the result of a highly collaborative process. A process that involves ensuring scheme fit by the coaches and team fit by others in the personnel department.

Whether this message was intended to humble Smith a bit - the team is bigger than any single individual - isn’t entirely clear, but what does appear clear is that Rivera is reluctant to feed any sort of narrative deifying individuals at the expense of the team. In that respect, one wonders if his decision not to promote Smith to General Manager was a bit of a test. I suspect we’ll see how the grades work out this offseason.


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