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Redskins Culture War Being Won By Ron Rivera

The Washington Redskins finally addressed their biggest problem when they hired Ron Rivera, and he is tackling that problem the linebacker he is.

Chicago Bears Photo by Berstein Associates/Getty Images

For years, we have railed against the manner in which Dan Snyder has led. In short, he has failed as leader. Irregardless of our stances on Vinny Cerrato and Bruce Allen, the man behind the curtain has always been Dan Snyder. Even when Snyder hired Joe Gibbs—maybe the greatest day as a Redskins fan in the Snyder era—he kept his hands on the strings.

The impact of this leadership style has been a slow and steady deterioration of the culture of one of the most storied franchises in the league. As the Snyder era progressed, more and more examples of the toxic environment created showed up between the whistles. Coaching carousels spun one man in and another out. In-house talent on the roster was shoved aside for shiny free agents that rarely panned out, creating a locker room situation over the years that became less and less conducive to the kind of locker room required to take the field and win on a regular basis. Trust—in almost any direction—became a scarce commodity that was frittered away for seemingly insane motives. Players didn’t trust the front office (most of the league didn’t trust Bruce Allen if you can believe surveys taken by agents, players and peers), players didn’t trust the medical staff and this left coaches with little room to operate. This, of course, assumes we had the right coach in place at any time in question. I am going to sidestep that debate for the moment.

This unfairly brief summary of the terrible leadership of Dan Snyder led us into this offseason. For only the third time under his stewardship, Snyder made a meaningful front office change (counting Vinny Cerrato and Bruce Allen as the first two), marking a legitimate point where hope has a chance to germinate. It is worthwhile to dig in to the move and what makes it different.

Snyder has been a strong proponent of general managers and a GM-centric NFL franchise. To him (and this is my opinion...possibly shared by y’all), a general manager was less about steering the ship and more about absorbing bullets meant for him. Vinny Cerrato and Bruce Allen were all too willing and happy to stand between Snyder and the critics of the team’s direction. It has been no secret that Snyder has been making the calls—even and especially when he has said he wasn’t—and that model simply didn’t work. All of us see this for what it is: terrible leadership. In the NFL though, you don’y get to vote out the owner. You can only hope for a course change.

This offseason, Dan Snyder made a course change. He legitimately cleaned house on the admin side of the house, including the respected veteran Eric Schaffer—a big loss for Snyder, as Eric was a big time security blanket for him. The medical staff was kicked out of the building and of course Bruce Allen was unceremoniously escorted out. Though the promotion of Kyle Smith came from within, this is also an example of positive momentum as we all believe he has talent.

Snyder announced a change to the Redskins management paradigm. Instead of the general manager-centric model, he was changing to a coach-centric model. When he first said this, I imagine most of us had the same reaction: how is he going to f this up? And then...he hired the one guy on the market who was MOST suited to tackling the exact problem the Redskins wrestled hardest with: culture. I am not going to sit here and list out all the ways in which Ron Rivera’s character rises to this specific challenge—we know them and have repeated them over and over. His military family background and the credibility he walks in the door with thanks to his playing days (see picture above) set him apart from the average coach we have hired.

In addition to re-branding the style of football on the field itself (between the whistles), Rivera has the job of re-branding the style of franchise management the Redskins will employ. Now, let’s all be sober about this (for just a second anyway)...Dan Snyder has yet to prove to us that he is willing to commit and stick to what he has said he will do. He still has to walk the walk. Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio don’t strike me as men who are going to be overly anxious to take incoming fire when Snyder is the one drawing the fire. I take some solace in this belief.

Let’s wrap all this up with actual action the Redskins have taken since the hiring of Ron Rivera. How about the trade of Quinton Dunbar? I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Dunbar play in burgundy and gold. I think he stands as an example of innovative thought by Jay Gruden and Dunbar himself deserves kudos for his willingness to carve out a career for himself when his first attempt at wide receiver did not pan out. Bottom line, he didn’t want to be here, and that is bad for culture. I understand the argument that a fifth-round pick was light in terms of compensation, but what kind of year were we going to get from a player that was feeling underpaid and under-appreciated? Should we have made him one of the highest-paid corners in the league? Should we have committed to a 28-year old defensive back that has struggled to stay on the field? These are open questions, with fair arguments on both sides, but to me, the decisive nature of the move is where my good feeling comes from. In fact, we cleaned house in the secondary, which has been a pretty maligned part of our defense. In that move, I see culture change, even though at the end of the day there weren’t huge names on the cutting room floor outside of Montae Nicholson. You’re looking at a defensive-minded head coach get serious about changing the kinds of players that are going to take the field for him on defense. Again...take a l look at that picture I used to lead the article. That guy is serious about the eleven guys playing defense. Very serious.

Let’s look at the addition of a man like Thomas Davis, Sr. He’s old...I get it. But when is the last time you can recall when he didn’t see the field outside of injury? He is a culture guy through and through. And...AND...he can still play. Kevin Pierre-Louis won’t make the Pro Bowl but he can play linebacker when needed and he can contribute on special teams. You know what I like most about Pierre-Louis? Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio picked him.

What about Kyle Allen? I hear people arguing about a guy who isn’t in the future plans of just about every NFL team. What he is, though, is a guy who knows the system and the offensive coordinator. He started 12 games last season, costs less than $700,000...and can help Dwayne Haskins learn this offense on the fly in a year when preseason activities are going to be impacted by the COVID outbreak. That is value just about every way you slice it.

In short, the model Dan Snyder committed to is at least working as date. So much more has to happen for us all to fully believe that what we are seeing will continue to move in the right direction. The Trent Williams situation needs to come to a reasonable solution for all sides. The offensive line, secondary and tight end positions need to be replenished in a way that is more than just warm bodies filling spots. There is a lot of work to do, but I feel like we finally have the right guy to lead that effort. Our biggest problem coming into this offseason—CULTURE—is being meaningfully addressed by a man that is uniquely qualified to lead that battle.

This is where I want to pick up tonight’s discussion, which will feature our friend Kevin Ewoldt calling in from down south. An old school Hogs Haven hangout—I will tweet out the link and post it up here later this evening for anyone to join. I look forward to Ewoldt skewering me the way he used to do on a daily basis.

See you tonight!