Ron Rivera opened up his post-practice training camp today with a surprising announcement, Defensive Line Coach Sam Mills III has been fired and he will be replaced with assistant DL Coach Jeff Zgonina. Mills was brought to Washington, along with most of the coaching staff, from the Carolina Panthers after Rivera was fired during the 2019 season. He was with the Panthers since 2005, first as a defensive assistant, and eventually becoming the DL coach in 2018, and adding the title of game management coach in his final year there.
The Mills family has a long history in the NFL, and his father was just inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year. Sam Mills Jr. was a linebacker who played in the CFL and USFL early in his career, before playing for the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. He is also a member of both of those team’s Rings of Fame.
Sam Mills III has had an overabundance of talent to work with in his two season with Washington. First round picks Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, and Chase Young should form one of the best DLs in the league, and they seemingly did in 2020, but last year was seen as a massive disappointment by everyone as the defense looked confused, disorganized and poorly coached. Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio took a lot of heat from media and fans, but there have been reports that Mills had issues with players in his group that were not resolved.
Mills is now gone in what Rivera called a difference in philosophy. He said it wasn’t about the disappointing 2021 campaign, but about making a change from things that were happening this offseason, and specifically in training camp. Washington had brought Warren Sapp in to work with the DL earlier in the offseason, and he was there again today along with former Redskins great Ryan Kerrigan who is shadowing the coaching staff to see if coaching is in his future.
LIVE: HC Ron Rivera speaks to the media after practice https://t.co/aocDjUmIzk— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) August 9, 2022
DL Coach Sam Mills fired:
Commanders Defensive Line Coach Sam Mills has been 'relieved of his duties'. pic.twitter.com/iuDLqXyeb8— NBC Sports Commanders (@NBCSCommanders) August 9, 2022
Rivera says the decision to let Coach Mills go was 'difficult' pic.twitter.com/6i8W9R2ts4— NBC Sports Commanders (@NBCSCommanders) August 9, 2022
More from Rivera on Mills: "Very difficult. I’ve known Sam a long time and he’s a very good football coach and I appreciate everything he’s done. He helped us win a division our first year and just things got tough last year. But there are some things I felt I wanted to change."— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) August 9, 2022
Coach Ron Rivera said he has relived DL coach Sam Mills III of his duties, he announced. He called it a difference in philosophy and said it was less about the DL’s underperformance last season and more about this training camp.— Sam Fortier (@Sam4TR) August 9, 2022
Wow. Sam Mills out for the Commanders. The defensive line has not performed well with Mills in charge. Rivera calls the decision "very difficult."— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) August 9, 2022
Jeff Zgonina has been promoted to lead the D-line and Brent Vielselmeyer, the assistant defensive backs/nickel coach, will help out.— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) August 9, 2022
Coach Rivera says Ryan Kerrigan will continue to shadow the coaching staff pic.twitter.com/b9NntrwREO— NBC Sports Commanders (@NBCSCommanders) August 9, 2022
"Wentz is getting more comfortable, he's developing more rapport with the receivers and the tight ends and the backs." pic.twitter.com/AINPrTiTgr— NBC Sports Commanders (@NBCSCommanders) August 9, 2022
Rivera said that Carson Wentz is getting more and more comfortable. We saw that today, which was probably his best day of camp— Zach Selby (@ZachSelbyWC) August 9, 2022
New Defensive Line Coach Jeff Zgonina is a former NFL DT who played 219 career games as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers (1993-94), Carolina Panthers (1995), Atlanta Falcons (1996), St. Louis Rams (1997, 1999-2002), Indianapolis Colts (1998), Miami Dolphins (2003-06) and Houston Texans (2007-09). He also won a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams over the Tennessee Titans following the 1999 season.
Zgonina has been coaching since 2013 when he was a member of the Houston Texans coaching staff as an Assistant DL Coach. He held the same job with the New York Giants in 2016. Zgonina took the DL Coach job with the San Francisco 49ers the following year. In 2020 he joined Ron Rivera in Washington as the Asst DL Coach, and has now been promoted again.
DL Coach Jeff Zgonina
LIVE: DL coach Jeff Zgonina speaks to the media https://t.co/1iN7HQ5vwb— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) August 9, 2022
Zgonina shares how he found out about his new role. pic.twitter.com/G9h7fjENtw— NBC Sports Commanders (@NBCSCommanders) August 9, 2022
Play hard, stay healthy:
New D-Line coach Jeff Zgonina is addressing the media. Said he wants the group to play hard, stay healthy. He and the front will continue to work on their craft— Zach Selby (@ZachSelbyWC) August 9, 2022
Play as a unit:
When asked what needs to change this season to see more d-line success, Coach Zgonina said this ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/psGNZAjCM2— NBC Sports Commanders (@NBCSCommanders) August 9, 2022
Said to take the next step they need to play as a unit. Said they are gelling— George Wallace (@GWallaceWTOP) August 9, 2022
DL making great strides in camp:
Zgonina said the D-Line has taken great strides this camp and is heading where he wants it go— Zach Selby (@ZachSelbyWC) August 9, 2022
Opportunity to win a championship:
"I was brought here to help win a championship and that's the main goal." pic.twitter.com/bJLE9mhWq5— NBC Sports Commanders (@NBCSCommanders) August 9, 2022
Zgonina looks at his new role as an opportunity "to give these men a championship"— Zach Selby (@ZachSelbyWC) August 9, 2022
Sam Mills fired:
Great game, terrible business:
DL Jon Allen said he was surprised by the firing of DL coach Sam Mills III.— Sam Fortier (@Sam4TR) August 9, 2022
“At the end of the day, it’s sad. I think me and Coach Sam were getting along really well. We were really making some progress as a defensive unit. It’s the NFL.” pic.twitter.com/N9igUQVPIb
Jonathan Allen on the firing on Sam Mills III: "At the end of the day it’s sad. I think me and coach Sam were getting along really well. We were really making some progress as a defensive unit. It’s the NFL. People just got to remember it’s a great game but a terrible business.'— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) August 9, 2022
Allen: “It’s sad. It’s the NFL, a great game but a terrible business. I wish him the best.” pic.twitter.com/tJe2gJzqzS— George Wallace (@GWallaceWTOP) August 9, 2022
Ron Rivera spoke with the team:
Allen said Coach Rivera talked to the D-line personally today to share the news of Mills, who was fired this morning bright and early. The move caught a lot of folks by surprise because of the timing.— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) August 9, 2022
Bates returned to practice today following a minor injury.@Ethan_Cadeaux was just as surprised as the rest of us to hear this was the longest he has EVER been out for an injury ... pic.twitter.com/T1E4iaK4gd— NBC Sports Commanders (@NBCSCommanders) August 9, 2022