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The Washington Commanders fired Ron Rivera on Monday, the team announced, starting a new era for a franchise far removed from its Super Bowl glory days.

Rivera, the seventh and final head coach hired by controversial former owner Dan Snyder, oversaw a disastrous 4-13 campaign that concluded with eight consecutive defeats.

The decision by managing partner Josh Harris, whose ownership group purchased the franchise from Snyder in July, was anticipated for weeks — if not from the start of the season, barring an impressive campaign that didn’t materialize. Rivera, 62, finished 26-40-1 — one playoff appearance — over four seasons, none concluding with a winning record.

We’ve parted ways with head coach Ron Rivera pic.twitter.com/wTKnbgj0GU

— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) January 8, 2024

The dismissal ending also creates an opening in the Commanders’ front office. Rivera, hired into Snyder’s “coach-centric” vision before the 2020 season, had the final say over personnel decisions. Numerous attempts to solve Washington’s quarterback concerns misfired, as did many of its main free-agent signings and high-round draft selections. Rivera also fired his initial offensive and defensive coordinators.

Other changes with the coaching staff and front office are expected. Teams can begin interviewing general manager candidates on Monday and head coaches Jan. 22. After years of being an organization that players, coaches and executives with options avoided because of Snyder, the Commanders are one of the more desirable openings this cycle.

The Commanders have added former Golden State Warriors GM Bob Myers and former Minnesota Vikings GM Rick Spielman to assist the ownership group in their search for a head coach and new head of football operations. Myers and Spielman will not have permanent roles for now, according to team sources.

“To deliver upon our ultimate goal of becoming an elite franchise and consistently competing for the Super Bowl, there is a lot to do and first we must establish a strong organizational infrastructure led by the industry’s best and most talented individuals,” Harris said in a statement. “As such, we will conduct a thorough search process to ensure we find the right candidates to guide this franchise forward. I consider these decisions to be among the most critical I make for the franchise — attracting exceptional talent, empowering them to lead and holding them accountable. I look forward to being personally involved throughout this process.”

Hiring Rivera, a former NFL linebacker raised in a military family, was about providing stability for a franchise that had almost none over Snyder’s 24 years. A popular league-wide figure, Rivera gave the team a respected frontman and internal leader, and a decent man. He guarded players against the persistent organizational chaos outside of the locker room, and he often spoke on behalf of the team when the reclusive owner wouldn’t.

As for the football side, Washington landed a two-time Coach of the Year winner who led the Carolina Panthers to a 2015 Super Bowl appearance with a 15-1 record. His four years with Washington were rarely only about football.

Signed to a five-year contract in 2020, only weeks after Carolina fired Rivera following nine seasons, the coach’s tenure began rocky for reasons beyond his control or the team’s previous 3-13 record. The COVID-19 pandemic started that March, limiting the first-year staff’s attempt to build camaraderie with players and enhance the internal culture.

An onslaught of organizational controversies that largely pre-date Rivera, primarily centering on Snyder and allegations of workplace harassment and financial improprieties, became a public spectacle that summer. Numerous investigations conducted by the NFL, the United States Congress and federal and local jurisdictions followed.

The work challenges gained perspective when Rivera was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, during the 2020 training camp. Though drained by treatments, he never missed a game and was declared cancer-free the following year.

These and other distractions aside, the team surprisingly won the NFC East despite a 7-9 record before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the wild-card round. The team started slow in each of the first three seasons before mid-year rallies placed Washington in the middle of the pack.

However, over time, concerns grew over how “Riverboat Ron” played his cards as the front-office lead and coach. Including nine years with the Panthers, Rivera’s teams ended with a winning record in three of 13 seasons. Sunday’s 38-10 home loss to the Dallas Cowboys lowered his career record under .500 at 102-103.

“I want every Washington fan to know how much I appreciate your unwavering support,” Rivera said in a statement. “Through all the name changes, roster moves, non-football headlines and seasons that did not meet your expectations, you still stood by this team.”

Statement from Ron Rivera pic.twitter.com/jQ0Pv482ee

— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) January 8, 2024

None of the seven head coaches — including multi-time Super Bowl winners Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan — or interim Bill Callahan ended their Washington periods with a winning record. Unlike his predecessors, Rivera faced the stiffest Snyder tax when trying to woo outside players and coaches because of the media coverage and investigations. However, Snyder was rarely engaged with football matters amid his legal battles and the franchise sale, leaving Rivera to navigate with limited interference.

After inheriting the broken and possibly unfixable relationship between left tackle Trent Williams and the organization, Rivera passed on trying to mend a contract and emotional impasse. He traded the Pro Bowler to San Francisco for mere third- and fifth-round picks. Several notable free-agent signings and other veteran acquisitions floundered, including quarterback Carson Wentz and cornerback William Jackson.

The team’s four first-round picks largely underwhelmed, including Chase Young. The No. 2 selection in 2020, Young was traded this season after a frustrating and injury-ravaged four years. Washington’s 2023 offseason moves, especially the rookie class, provided minimal help.

There was never a secret about Rivera’s desperation when trying to solve the sport’s most important position. “Quarterback” was his one-word answer to a reporter’s question during the 2022 season when asked why Washington had fallen behind the other NFC East teams. Eight different quarterbacks started games over four years.

“That’s probably been the biggest crux of it all, is trying to find that guy,” Rivera said last week.

Attempts to acquire veterans such as Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson, draft a difference-maker or develop young passers on the roster fell short. The franchise’s ill-advised trade for Wentz, the Week 1 starter in 2022, factored into a late-season collapse. Washington went 0-3-1 four weeks immediately after ascending into a projected wild-card spot. Along with consistent player evaluation misfires with free agents and prospects, Washington’s roster-building plan often lacked cohesion and frequently shifted randomly based on circumstances rather than desire.

Six days after the 2022 season, Rivera effectively declared second-year quarterback Sam Howell, a fifth-round pick with one career start, Washington’s 2023 starter. The choice likely reacted to criticism over missing the playoffs and the failed Wentz trade that cost Washington two future third-round selections.

Howell flashed over the season’s first half, and the head coach enthusiastically promoted him as the possible long-term quarterback solution. But Howell’s subsequent struggles — he led the league with 21 interceptions — coincided with the Commanders’ fade. In Week 17, Jacoby Brissett was slated to be the ninth different starting quarterback since 2020 after Rivera abandoned the original plan, only for Howell to remain in the lineup when Brissett self-reported hamstring tightness.

The primary upside with a four-win season was securing the No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft. The Commanders are positioned to select one of the heralded incoming passing prospects. Washington also has roughly $90 million in salary-cap room and nine draft picks — five in the top 100 — to begin its needed retooling.

Harris and his ownership group, including NBA legend and businessman Magic Johnson, purchased the franchise for $6.05 billion in late July — one day before Washington opened training camp. That left no room to tackle any football-related concerns.

“We look forward to learning and watching and see what happens,” Harris said ahead of the season opener. “I’m very excited to be spending time with Coach Rivera and his staff and players and understanding what’s going on. And I’m very supportive right now of what they’re doing.”

Along with diving into future stadium plans and connecting with a disheartened fan base that has witnessed two playoff wins since 1999 — the year Snyder purchased the team — Harris and his group studied the Commanders’ football operation and the league at large. That proactive work will soon show as they begin interviewing candidates and re-shaping the organization.

More of a CEO delegator head coach who gave his coordinators significant control, Rivera took over defensive coordinator duties after firing Jack Del Rio in November. His first offensive coordinator, Scott Turner, was let go after the 2022 season. Rivera gave Eric Bieniemy, Turner’s replacement, autonomy to run the offense and alter Washington’s offseason program. The coach revealing in training camp that players came to him with concerns over Bieniemy’s hard-nosed approach was one of several unforced errors by Rivera that turned into a news headline.

Washington’s defense fueled the late-season surge in 2020 but played out of sorts the following year. A similar flip-flop occurred after ranking in the top 10 in 2022, only to rank near the bottom in numerous categories this past season.

“I managed for about three and a half years while I was here,” Rivera said last week about his return to overseeing a defense. “Getting back and doing the defensive coordinator stuff was a thrill.”

Despite the gambling moniker acquired with Carolina for his gut decisions, Rivera repeatedly chose comfort over boldness with his staff hires and leaned conservative with in-game and roster decisions.

Most of his initial coaching and front-office staff were with him in Carolina or were long-time acquaintances such as Del Rio. The Carolina Express also delivered several ex-Panthers to town with mixed results.

Former Panthers general manager Marty Hurney initially joined Washington for Rivera’s second season in the same role. However, the news became a rollout bungle as Hurney was immediately shifted to a vague senior advisory role before any official announcement, allowing former 49ers executive Martin Mayhew to become general manager. There was never any questioning Rivera’s status atop the organizational chart.

“Well, I’d like to think we’re in a better place,” Rivera said last week. “(That’s) probably a fair way to say it. I most certainly do appreciate my time here, and we’ll see what happens. And again, we’ll focus in on what’s coming first on Sunday, and that’s getting ready for Dallas.”

Rivera was hardly the only Snyder-hired coach to fall short of his goals. What’s most notable for fans of the organization is he’ll be the last.

— Dianna Russini contributed reporting.

Required reading

  • What challenges could Commanders owner Josh Harris face in pursuing a new GM?
  • Does NFL want ‘quirky’ Jim Harbaugh? ‘He’s won everywhere he’s been, but what comes with it?’
  • How the Commanders, under Eric Bieniemy, became the pass-happiest team this century

(Photo: Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)

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Kay Adams