It’s official: Redskins hire Ron Rivera as head coach
By Stephen Whyno
AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Redskins hired Ron Rivera as their coach on Wednesday in owner Dan Snyder’s latest step to try to turn around the wayward franchise.
Washington announced the move two days after Snyder fired president Bruce Allen following a decade of futility. The former Carolina Panthers coach quickly emerged as the Redskins’ top candidate and inherits a team that went 3-13 this season and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2015.
“After several meetings with Coach Rivera, it was clear he is the right person to bring winning football back to Washington, D.C.,” Snyder said in a statement. “He is widely respected around the league as a man of great integrity and has proven to be one of the finest coaches in the country.”
The 57-year-old of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent is the first minority to be named full-time coach in Redskins franchise history. Rivera is the seventh coach hired by Snyder in his two decades of ownership that have included just five playoff appearances.
Rivera spent the past nine seasons coaching the Panthers, taking them to the Super Bowl in 2015.
“He gets the best out of players,” said Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, who played for Rivera with Carolina. “And not just players, but men. He builds men and guys — and also builds character, and sets them up not just for football, but sets (them up) in life. I think that’s the first and foremost thing you want to see in anybody, that they actually care about you instead of the game itself.”
The Redskins are the first team that fired its coach this season to fill the position. Snyder zeroed in on Rivera, who flew to Washington on Monday to meet with him about the job.
“While I love the storied history of the franchise, I am focused on the future and excited for the opportunity to win football games with this talented young team,” Rivera said in a statement.
Rivera replaces interim coach Bill Callahan, a favorite of Allen, who was fired after going 62-97-1 during his 10 years with the organization.
Snyder and Allen fired Jay Gruden in October after a 0-5 start to his sixth season. Rivera was fired by the Panthers in December after starting 5-7.
Carolina made the playoffs four times during Rivera’s tenure, including a 15-1 season in 2015.
“Those Panther teams were tough and physical,” said Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, the team’s longest-tenured player. “Obviously they made the Super Bowl that one year. We played against them that year and they really were a damn good team that year. He’s always had a physical, tough bunch. I know that.”
Rivera previously was a defensive coordinator for the Bears and Chargers. He should boost a Redskins defense that underachieved and finished 27th out of 32 NFL teams.
“Just not consistent enough is the big word of the year,” defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. “We have a young group, young defense and, I mean, (the) only place from here is up, honestly.”
Rivera could bring in Steve Wilks as defensive coordinator after time together in Carolina. Wilks spent one season as Arizona’s coach and most recently was defensive coordinator in Cleveland under Freddie Kitchens, who was fired Sunday.
Norman, who had his only All-Pro season under Wilks, called him “the best guy for the job.”
Rivera goes from coaching Cam Newton with Carolina to younger quarterback Dwayne Haskins with Washington. Haskins, whom the Redskins selected 15th overall and goes into 2020 as the starter, met Rivera during the pre-draft process.
“He’s a good dude,” Haskins said. “I heard a lot of good things about him. We’ll see what happens.”
JAGUARS KEEP MARRONE, CALDWELL DESPITE ANOTHER LOSING SEASON
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A cellphone went off during Doug Marrone’s news conference Tuesday, and the Jacksonville Jaguars coach quickly responded that it would be a $500 fine for the reporter whose phone rang.
“We reduced it,” Marrone quipped.
Marrone’s response was a clear shot at former Jaguars executive Tom Coughlin, whose overbearing ways created rifts with players, coaches and front office personnel.
Owner Shad Khan fired Coughlin two weeks ago and decided Tuesday to retain Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell despite consecutive losing seasons. Khan made the announcement after what he described as “positive meetings” with Marrone, Caldwell, their staffs and several key players.
“This is not the time to consider an overhaul of our organization,” he said in a statement.
Khan expressed disappointment with the team’s 6-10 season. Jacksonville was 4-4 and in the hunt in the AFC South before losing five straight and falling out of playoff contention. The Jags dropped each of those by at least 17 points.
Marrone is 23-28 in three seasons, including 11-21 following a trip to the AFC title game in the 2017 season. Marrone was frustrated at times with the roster, the core of which Coughlin assembled, but believes there are enough pieces in place to be more competitive. Jacksonville lost seven games this season by double digits.
Marrone and Caldwell have two years remaining on their contracts, and Khan made it clear that expectations are high for 2020. They will report to Khan in a reorganized structure that will have both staffs working in a collaborative effort.
“We’re talking about taking our coaching staff with our scouting staff and really putting in it a true, true partnership where we’re meeting and talking and coming to decisions,” Marrone said. “When we do that, things become clearer on exactly what the vision is that we want.”
Jacksonville’s only vision the last three years was Coughlin’s — on the field and in the locker room. He ran the franchise similar to the way he did in the mid-1990s, beginning with his run-heavy offensive style and including the way he dealt with players. Coughlin tried to fine guys for every little misstep, from skipping yoga sessions to sitting on the bench during games.
The NFL Players Association ripped Jacksonville’s unbending taskmaster, saying that more than 25% of player grievances filed in the last two years have been against the Jaguars. An arbitrator recently ruled in favor of the NFLPA, negating the fines levied by Jacksonville in 2018. The union’s take: “You as players may want to consider this when you have a chance to select your next club.”
Khan seemingly identified the old-school coach as the main problem. Coughlin’s heavy-handed approach upset players, leading to cornerback Jalen Ramsey forcing his trade to the Los Angeles Rams, as well as some assistants. Coughlin had difficulty making the transition from the sideline to the front office.
His position as executive vice president of football operations will not be filled. Marrone and Caldwell will report directly to Khan.
“I want to see what we produce under a new organizational structure in 2020,” Khan said. “Goals have been established. Accountability will be paramount.”
The revamped system leaves Marrone and Caldwell on equal footing.
“Certain teams have different structures in how they do that,” Caldwell said. “But my feeling at the places I’ve been that have had success when you have thoughtful processes in place with the coaches and scouts and ownership, you generally make better decisions than one person.
“It’s going to be something where everybody in the organization is going to be on the same page and everybody’s going to be moving forward.”
Even with the continuity, Jacksonville has a rebuilding project ahead. Marrone and Caldwell have two first-round draft picks, Nos. 9 and 20 overall, to help rebuild a roster that lacks talent and depth. Quarterback Gardner Minshew, defensive end Josh Allen and right tackle Jawaan Taylor are three standout rookies and building blocks in place for Marrone and Caldwell moving forward.
But there are plenty of holes, especially if the Jaguars part ways with several expensive veterans to create salary cap space.
One guy the Jags don’t want to lose is pending free agent defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who has 37 1/2 sacks and 14 forced fumbles in four seasons. Caldwell hopes to sign Ngakoue to a long-term deal or use the franchise tag to keep him in Jacksonville in 2020.
“He’s a tremendous player, even a better person,” Caldwell said. “How he handled his business this year was tremendous. I would say that’s priority No. 1, to make sure he comes back and he’s a Jacksonville Jaguar. Hopefully we can get that done where he’s here for a long period of time.”
TANNEHILL’S PLAYOFF DEBUT COMES AGAINST THE PATRIOTS’ BRADY
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Ryan Tannehill does not hide his emotions on the football field, celebrating big plays with a fist pump or punctuating his own touchdown run by raising the ball up into the air.
He’ll even run down a defender after an interception and take him down with a perfect tackle.
Now the No. 8 pick in the 2012 draft has gone from being traded in March to preparing for his postseason debut with his second NFL team, the Tennessee Titans, after eight seasons and 100 games played.
“It’s always something that I wanted to be doing my whole career,” Tannehill said Tuesday.
And his opponent Saturday night will be none other than the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots (12-4) and Tom Brady, the former sixth-round draft pick with more Super Bowl rings than any other quarterback.
“He’s a guy that’s been doing it for a long, long time at a very high level,” Tannehill said. “So he’s won a lot of games and obviously have a lot of respect for him.”
Tannehill finally reaching the playoffs as the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans didn’t seem possible back in March when Miami chose to pick up $5 million of his salary and dump him off on the Titans all while eating $18.4 million of his salary cap hit. His role in Tennessee? A backup only to Marcus Mariota, the Titans’ first-round draft pick in 2015.
Mired in a 2-4 start, the Titans benched Mariota in mid-October and turned to the 6-foot-4, 217-pound former wide receiver. He responded, going 7-3 as a starter to help the Titans (9-7) to their second playoff berth in three seasons with the AFC’s second wild card.
Tannehill led the NFL with a career-best 117.5 passer rating that is the fourth-highest in a single season among qualified passers in league history. He joined Sammy Baugh and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks to complete at least 70% of passes (70.3%) and average at least 9 yards per pass attempt (9.6).
He’s thrown for 2,742 yards with 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions while running for a career-high four TDs. He’s a big reason why the Titans rank 12th in the NFL in total offense and 10th in points per game after being 28th in scoring an average of 16.3 points a game when Tannehill became the starter.
Oakland coach Jon Gruden said in early December that greatness can’t be rushed and the key is how players respond to being cut or released or someone being fired.
“You’ve got to come back,” Gruden said. “(Rich) Gannon didn’t get here until he was 34. I mean, Steve Young didn’t start in the NFL until he was 30. Kurt Warner, he had to do the same thing and Joe Theismann had to do the same. There’s been a lot of guys that didn’t explode onto the scene immediately.”
New England coach Bill Belichick said he’s always thought Tannehill was a good quarterback who did a good job in Miami. With Tennessee, Belichick sees Tannehill running the offense well and making good decisions.
“He’s obviously athletic and got a really good group of receivers,” Belichick said. “I mean, the offense works well together with their strong running game and play-action passes, and he’s hit them. He’s made good decisions with the ball. Really impressive offense and their system, very impressive.”
Now comes the biggest test of Tannehill’s career.
He is 4-7 against New England and beat the Patriots in just his second season in the NFL in 2013. After that, the Patriots reeled off 21 straight victories against first- or second-year quarterbacks until Lamar Jackson ended that streak Nov. 3.
In Foxborough, Tannehill is 0-6 with only five TDs and 10 interceptions. And Brady remains the quarterback on the other side looking to win his seventh Super Bowl. Brady has the most postseason experience in league history with 40 games, and he also holds the marks for most passes thrown and completed, yards and TD passes.
While waiting for this opportunity, Tannehill always knew what he wanted.
“It’s the thought I want to be playing in January and playing for a championship,” Tannehill said.
Notes: CB Adoree’ Jackson, who has missed four games with an injured foot, practiced fully Tuesday. LB Daren Bates (shoulder) was limited. WRs Adam Humphries (ankle) and Kalif Raymond (concussion) did not practice.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
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