As Ron Rivera laid out his grand plan for bringing the Redskins back to being one of the NFL's top teams, it was rare for him to repeat himself. One of the only times came when he described the kind of coaches he wanted on his staff.
"I told [Redskins owner Dan] Snyder I wanted to assemble a coaching staff that was truly dedicated to the players, and teachers. And teachers, OK?" Rivera said. "I don't have to have a great, big name. What I have to have is great teachers."
At the time, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was the sole member of Rivera's staff. He was Rivera's first hire, and he has expressed the utmost confidence that Del Rio is the right coach to rebuild his new defense.
Del Rio has a stellar reputation for getting the best out of talented players. And when it comes to fulfilling Rivera's requirement of being a teacher of the game, perennial Pro Bowler and edge rusher Von Miller can vouch for him.
"He's just a great coach," Miller said of Del Rio after Thursday's practice ahead of the 2020 Pro Bowl in Orlando, Florida. "He's great at getting guys in the right mindset to rush and play football."
Miller was already a unique talent when Del Rio first joined the Denver Broncos as their defensive coordinator in 2012. As the second overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Miller recorded 11.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 64 tackles en route to making his first of eight Pro Bowl appearances.
At the time he was hired, Del Rio compared Miller to another first-round pick he coached when he was with the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2001: four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Peter Boulware. Like Miller, Boulware had 11.5 sacks during his rookie season in 1997 and was also the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year. Boulware had 10 sacks in Del Rio's first season as the Ravens linebackers coach and a career-high 15 in his last before Del Rio left to be the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator.
Miller has finished seven of his nine NFL seasons with at least 10 sacks, but some of his highest production came when Del Rio was his defensive coordinator from 2012-14. He had 18.5 in 2012, which remains career-high, and 14 in 2014 -- a feat he has only accomplished three times in his career.
"Von's going to be a very productive player for a long time," Del Rio told Jeff Legwold, then of The Denver Post, in 2012.
As Miller said in 2012, Del Rio is "the wizard" when it comes to conjuring up defensive schemes. But even Del Rio can't deny that having a player like Miller at his disposal certainly helped the 2012 Broncos become the No.2-ranked defense in terms of stopping the run and getting sacks.
That's where Del Rio likes to start when designing his defenses; he wants a fast, physical pass rush that makes life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.
"Having a guy like Von Miller or a guy like [Chicago Bears defensive end] Khalil Mack, who are premier pass rushers, they put a lot of pressure on the offense and help the defense," Del Rio said during his introductory phone conference on Jan. 15. "It all starts for us with the penetrative, disruptive defensive linemen."
Del Rio is known for having a way with players regardless of his role; wherever he goes, success usually follows him. In the four years he was a coordinator for the Panthers and Broncos, his defenses finished in the top five in terms of yards allowed. As a head coach, he had a top 10 defense in two of his first three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Miller said a lot of that success has to do with Del Rio making sure his players have the right mindset before a game.
"That's 90% of it, having the right mindset, being a tough guy, being ready to play," Miller said.
That closely aligns with what Del Rio has been saying since he arrived in Ashburn, Virginia, to be the Redskins new defensive coordinator. He isn't interested in the potential of a defense that boasts four former first-round picks -- three of which have come in the last three drafts -- on its front seven. The only thing he cares about is the work that has to be done this offseason.
"Potential really doesn't matter," Del Rio said. "It doesn't really amount to much. To me, it's more about what we can get done and the work that we're willing to put in and the idea that, 'Look, we're going to become a respected unit.'"
Del Rio's process began with assembling a staff. That goal has been accomplished. Now, he is evaluating the team, potential free agents and draft prospects. And as the day for the team to report for offseason workouts approaches, he is excited to greet the players he'll work with for the foreseeable future.
It's been more than seven years since Miller was in the same spot as the Redskins' defensive players will be in a few months. When that time does come, Miller is sure Del Rio will have those players ready to go.
"Coach Del Rio will definitely have everyone on that level," he said.