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Commanders fans want Rivera and staff gone, but don’t expect him to be fired with sale of team looming

Poll results!!

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Washington Commanders Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

All three of our Reacts survey questions this week required ‘yes/no’ answers. The only thing that I found surprising about this week’s Reacts survey results is the actual numerical split between those voting ‘yes’ and those voting ‘no’. In other words, I was unsurprised by the majority answer, but a bit surprised by the amount of difference between the number of people voting for each answer.


With Washington losing to the Browns to extend the team’s winless streak to 4 games and 5 weeks, knocking the Commanders out of playoff contention in the process, I expected the weekly confidence question to reflect a dramatic fall in confidence. In Weeks 4, 5, 6 and 7, following losses to the Eagles, Cowboys and Titans, and a very narrow win over the Bears in which Carson Wentz was injured, the confidence level (i.e., the percentage of those voting “yes”) hovered between 7% and 11%.

I expected the loss to the Browns, the attendant flip-flopping about the starting quarterback position, Ron Rivera’s clear ignorance of the fact that his team faced playoff elimination last Sunday, and the total silence on the question of the sale of the Commanders to push the confidence number down to that 10% range — and maybe lower — this week. That didn’t happen though.

The fall in confidence was precipitous, down from 35% a week ago, 50% two weeks ago, and 85% five weeks ago, but not quite the total collapse I was expecting.

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As you can see from the chart, the proportion of respondents answering “yes” this week to the question of whether or not they are confident in the direction of the team fell to 16% — the 5th lowest level of 2022.

There were almost no comments left by voters this week, leaving me to speculate on the thought process of those who voted. I assume that those who still have confidence in the direction may be (1) carrying forward good feelings from mid-season, when the team made a strong run at playoff contention (2) very happy to see Sam Howell get the start in Week 18, (3) supportive of Ron Rivera and what he is doing with the team, or (4) willing to vote ‘yes’ as long as they believe that Dan Snyder is still on track to sell the team.

The Coaching Staff

As nearly every NFL fan knows, every team in the league will play its final game on Sunday. It is a long tradition for frustrated owners to fire coaches on the following day, often referred to as “Black Monday” by pundits and media types. An owner here or there who is especially pissed off may not wait for midnight to pass, and may announce the firing of the head coach or coaching staff immediately after the game.

As Washington heads into its Week 18 game with the very real possibility that the team will finish its third consecutive season under Ron Rivera’s stewardship with 7 wins and a losing record, there has been a lot of grumbling about the coaching staff in general, and Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner in particular, as the winless streak has continued through the month of December and into January.

Last year, Ron Rivera made use of a surprising strategy in press conferences by talking about how he sometimes regretted that the team had succeeded in winning the division title in his first season (2020) because it raised fan expectations and made them impatient. I will always contend that it was Ron Rivera himself, in his introductory press conference, who did that with talk of super bowls, of the great core of talented players that attracted him to the job, and having no patience for “a five-year plan”. What should fans expect from a head coach in Year 2 after those sorts of comments on his first day on the job?

The head coach seemed to either learn from that, or he had always been working on a three-year plan, because he certainly went out of his way to raise expectations ahead of the 2022 season, hearkening back to his days in Carolina and talking about the success his Panthers had enjoyed in his third season there.

By late-November, Riverboat Ron was feeling emboldened by the team’s mid-season success and doubled down on some of the remarks he’d made earlier:

This is mirroring what we went through in Carolina, and I’m sorry to bring it up, but that’s what happened. In year three, it came together, and that’s kind of what you hope for, is that you get to a certain point, everything comes together.... The guys are playing the way that we believe that they are capable, that we’re trying to get across, that this is what they can do, this is what they can be, you know. They can go out and beat the best team in the league, you know, when we beat Philadelphia at the time, and then we can play a tough, scrappy team like [the Falcons] and be able to survive it.

The Commanders have not won a game since Rivera uttered those remarks, and following back-to-back seasons in which his team had mid-season success followed by late-season collapses, many people are questioning whether the 61-year-old, who was brought in to restore order and respectability to a franchise that had long been marred by dysfunction, is the right kind of football coach to lead Washington out of the doldrums of the past 8 seasons, 7 of which have ended with between 7 and 9 wins.

We asked Hogs Haven readers this week if they want the current coaching staff to stay in place; an overwhelming 88% of those who responded said ‘no’.

I had expected a majority of fans to vote this way, but I was surprised that nearly 9 out of 10 fans would do so. The negative feelings about the coaching staff run deep.

It gets complicated

NFL fans are accustomed to making their voices heard around this time of year. They use local talk radio to blast their enthusiasm or their displeasure in a way that will be heard by NFL owners. They also vote with their feet and their wallets, going to late-season games when they are happy, and staying home when they are not, and buying merchandise or not, depending on how they feel about what’s going on with the team.

Fans of the burgundy & gold want someone to take action — the results of the survey show how one-sided the feeling is among voters on this site — but while that frustration would normally result in a deafening roar of voices calling for the coach to be fired, the current situation in Washington right now, with Dan Snyder apparently considering bids from prospective purchasers as he makes plans to move to London, leaves fans in a bit of a quandary.

Who, exactly should pull the trigger to fire the coaching staff? Dan Snyder is not likely to do it with a sale apparently in progress.

With no buyer yet identified and no clear timeline for when (or whether) the sale will be finalized, the timing appears problematic for an incoming owner to make meaningful changes to the coaching staff in sync with the annual rhythms of the NFL.

It’s widely acknowledged that Washington fans are probably going to have to go through another year with the existing coaching staff in place.

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As you can see from the survey results, the same voters who wanted the coaching staff gone by a margin of 88 to 12, don’t expect anyone to fire the coaching staff.

My only surprise here is that 38% of respondents can envision a circumstance in which Ron Rivera and his crew are replaced for the 2023 season. I, personally, have written in comments that an organized buyer who is announced immediately after the season ends could hit the ground running with a plan in place, but as we sit here just a couple days away from Black Monday, I have a very hard time imagining any situation unfolding fast enough for a new owner to get rid of Ron Rivera.

I am among the 62% of fans who responded that I expect the current coaching staff to remain in place.

The earliest action that seems feasible for a new ownership group to flex its muscles appears to be the post-draft period when NFL teams reorganize their front-office personnel departments, including some changes at GM positions, but that seems unlikely due to both timing and structure.

From a timing standpoint, it would be awkward to hire a new GM in May or June, and have that person spend 6 or 7 months working in concert with Rivera and building a relationship with him if the expectation is that the head coach would be fired at the end of the ‘23 season. Of course, that wouldn’t be a strong consideration if one expected Ron to have a successful season in ‘23 and continue on as the head coach.

More significantly, however, is the structure that Dan Snyder put in place — the so-called “coach-centric” model in which Ron Rivera has the final say on all things football-related. Here in Washington, regardless of any consensus-decision making that may be in place, Martin Mayhew and Marty Hurney (and everyone else on the ‘football side of the building’) work for Ron Rivera. He was given a sort of carte blanche to remake the organization at the time of his hire because, well, frankly, that’s what Dan Snyder needed — an apparent outsider with a reputation for integrity, toughness and fairness to come in and take charge.

A new owner is likely to want to implement a more standard NFL model in which a strong General Manager is in charge of operations and personnel (‘buying the groceries’), and that man or woman hires the head coach, who has the more focused job of assembling a staff, coaching the players, and winning as many football games as possible each and every season.

How would a new owner attract a strong GM candidate and bring that person into the organization between the draft and the start of training camp and shoehorn that individual into an organization that has been under Ron Rivera’s total control for three seasons?

No, the most likely path forward is one that Ron Rivera has lived through before. The new owner takes over and maintains the status quo for his or her inaugural season as owner. In the case of David Tepper and the Panthers, Ron Rivera lasted about 18 months before being fired by the owner, but as we know from KS4GM’s excellent research, that is the outlier; in the 5 team sales that he reviewed, all four other coaches lasted a season or less.

All of this points to a not-so-instant replay for Ron Rivera, who may become the first head coach in the Super Bowl era to coach two NFL teams that changed hands. The most likely outcome is that fans will see Rivera return for his 4th season as the Washington head coach (though I wouldn’t want to bet a lot of money on Scott Turner’s future). Assuming a new owner takes over sometime between now and the draft, the history of recent ownership changes in NFL franchises suggests that the clock will start ticking for Ron Rivera, as it did for Nathaniel Hackett in Denver this year. That history suggests that the Washington football franchise will head into the 2024 season with a new head coach, and likely a new front office, but that no wholesale changes are on the horizon for 2023.

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