Welcome to SB Nation Reacts, a survey of fans across the NFL. Throughout the year we ask questions of the most plugged-in Washington Commanders fans and fans across the country. Sign up here to participate in regular email surveys.
RON RIVERA UNDER PRESSURE
He’s been through it before — the sale of his team to a new owner. Last time, he was fired before the end of his second season under David Tepper, the billionaire who had bought the Carolina Panthers. Happy Thanksgiving.
This time, the axe could fall more quickly, and Ron Rivera knows that. He has openly talked about this season being “an audition” for him in front of the Josh Harris group that bought the Commanders just over a month ago, saying that he had ‘a lot to prove’. Rivera has also spoken openly about the legacy he hopes to leave behind if he gets fired again. It’s a topic Ron hasn’t shied away from, and, given that Ron is going into his 4th season in Washington and has yet to produce a winning season, it’s a topic that would have been publicly discussed by fans and the media whether the team had been sold or not.
On the day of his introductory press conference as Washington’s new head coach in 2020, Ron Rivera said that he didn’t have the patience for a 5-year rebuild, though it feels very much like that’s the path he has ended up taking. Of course, on that day in January of 2020, Ron didn’t yet realize the impact of the viral outbreak that had just been reported in China, and he didn’t know that he was just weeks away from finding out he had cancer — something that he beat, but only with a lot of tough treatment that took a toll on the head coach. He also didn’t realize (or maybe he did) that he’d be the front man for the most unstable franchise in sports — one that was 6 months away from changing the team name, and one that would go on to be the subject of multiple league investigations and investigations into the owner and workplace environment pursued by multiple local jurisdictions and even the United States House of Representatives.
In January of 2020, Ron didn’t know that he was less than 50 months away from the team being sold.
To say that Ron Rivera has had a lot to deal with in his three-and-a-half-year tenure in Washington would be a vast understatement. I find it hard to imagine that any NFL coach has ever had to deal with more in a similarly compressed time frame.
But context isn’t high on the list of considerations for NFL fans. We are an impatient bunch, with that impatience driven by a league with a relatively short season — just 17 games — where every win and every loss is magnified far beyond anything players and coaches experience in other major US professional sports like hockey, basketball, and baseball. The first two play 82 games in a regular season; baseball teams play 162 times!
In the NFL, every Sunday feels like a battle royale with massive consequences for both teams and their coaching staffs. The demand is to win or get out of the way. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.
As we sit on the cusp of Ron Rivera’s 4th season, it feels like a watershed moment in the career of the 61-year-old coach. There has been plenty of speculation in news articles, blogs and podcasts from people who are openly wondering how long he can last.
In a recent article, The Athletic asked 23 player agents their opinions on the Commanders, from the arrival of Eric Bieniemy to the benefits of Snyder’s departure, thoughts on Ron Rivera and advice for Josh Harris. Here is some of what they said about the head coach:
• “Still a fan. He’s been handcuffed since he’s been there in some ways. You have to have a QB. Maybe Sam Howell finally fills that hole.”
• “Love him, but I’m not sure he will survive this ownership change no matter what. Owners want to put a stamp on their new toy.”
• “Better win. Facing an uphill battle.”
The local radio personalities aren’t backing off of the question, even when they are conversing with Ron directly:
“You are good at building, but are you good at coaching?”
That was a question Craig Hoffman asked concerning Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera during the first hour of his The Team 980 Tuesday drive-home program.
Hoffman spoke of the dream of many Commanders fans being that Ron Rivera will not have a job at the end of this 2023 Commanders regular season. Couldn’t one respond logically and rationally that many more Commanders fans are hoping there is much winning this season?
In short, it feels like it’s open season on Ron Rivera, and here at Hogs Haven, we’re taking our shot this week in the Reacts poll.
In our first question, we try to gauge the overall feeling of Hogs Haven readers towards the head coach. We see a lot of criticism of coach Rivera in the comments section of the blog, but comments tend to come from a very small handful of the community, and some opinions sound ‘louder’ through the willingness of some people to simply repeat themselves endlessly for days, weeks, months, or even years about a subject they feel passionate about.
Close-ended questions, like the ones we use in the Reacts poll are good for binary questions, but don’t allow for a lot of nuance. I’ve offered a 6 options for you to pick from to express your thoughts about head coach Ron Rivera, but your feelings may be much more complex than I’ve allowed for. Feel free to use the comments section to expand on the complexity and nuance of your thoughts and feelings.
THE ERIC BIENIEMY OPPORTUNITY
While Ron Rivera is dragging a lot of baggage into the 2023 season, and may be slowed by inertia, the opposite might be the case with Washington’s new Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator, who seems to be getting the same kind of enthusiastic support that has been enjoyed by every backup quarterback to have been on Washington’s roster in my lifetime. That is to say that the fans and media are embracing Eric Beiniemy and his no-prisoners approach to coaching as if he were a long-awaited hero.
Look at the responses the Athletic got about Eric Bieniemy in its survey of player’s agents:
• “He’s always been tremendously passionate. Emotions on sleeves. Bringing someone like that in can raise energy levels. No BS in his game.”
• “Especially as an African American coach, he’s gonna get scrutinized whether they win or lose. … He needs to be who he’s always been: a guy who is over-prepared, understands how to win games, and is going to develop (players). I just hope he gets the time.”
• “He’s in a tough situation. New owner, new organization, young QB. Heavy risk-reward. He’s a good man.”
• “Really interesting that he chose to go to Washington knowing that this is a make-or-break year, arguably for the entire franchise. I love Ron (Rivera), but I think Bieniemy will bring a tremendous presence and intensity that is probably needed. He’ll now also get credit if warranted. … We’ll find out once and for all: Are you a good play caller? Can you run an offense? Do you know how to adjust? Exploit weaknesses? It’ll be all on EB. I’m pro-Eric.”
In today’s second question, we offer the simple binary choice that I didn’t think was possible with Ron Rivera.
The question simply asks: Right now, are you convinced that Eric Bieniemy is the best person to take over as the next head coach of the Commanders?
While the choice of answers may be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, your feelings on the matter may be just as complex and nuanced as those you have regarding EB’s current boss. Feel free to expand on your thoughts and feelings in the comments section; that’s exactly why it’s there.
Comments & Results
Of course, we invite you to answer the survey questions below, but also feel free to expand on your answers in the comments section. I rely on those comments when discussing the results of the survey when they are posted in a separate article the next few days.