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"They Understand What I Want": Ron Rivera Explains How He Built The Redskins Coaching Staff


Following a post-Super Bowl week off, much of the Washington Redskins coaching staff returned to Redskins Park on Monday to continue preparing for the 2020 season.

The first order of business is to meet with the scouting department, head coach Ron Rivera said, and formulate in-depth evaluations of each player on the current roster. This is when they'll "set the core," which means identifying key contributors to build around. These decisions will then determine the course of action for the NFL Scouting Combine, free agency and the NFL Draft.

It's a complex and arduous process, though it should be made easier given Rivera's familiarity with his coworkers. Of the 20 assistant coaches, 12 of them were on his staff at some point during his time in Carolina. Plus, the Redskins' new head athletic trainer (Ryan Vermillion) and their new Senior Vice President of Football Administration (Rob Rogers) have been with Rivera since he became the Panthers head coach in 2011.

It's uncommon for a coaching staff to reconvene elsewhere -- especially considering the Panthers fired Rivera in December -- but Rivera believes this is the right group to turn the Redskins into a consistent winner.

"Those are guys who know how I want it done," Rivera said during Super Bowl week in Miami. "That's the most important thing. They know how we need to do it to give ourselves a chance. I know the last two weren't the years that we wanted, but there [were] reasons that we couldn't control in terms of the injuries. But again, they understand what I want more so than anything else."

For as long as Rivera coached the Panthers, tight ends coach Pete Hoener, offensive line coach John Matsko and defensive line coach Sam Mills III were by his side. Richard Rodgers, now the Redskins' assistant defensive backs coach, arrived a year later.

Together, they led Carolina to four playoff appearances, three NFC South titles and an appearance in Super Bowl 50. They also helped Rivera secure Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year honors in 2013 and 2015 -- making him one of 10 coaches in league history to win the award twice.

The other Panthers coaches now with the Redskins joined Rivera more recently. New offensive coordinator Scott Turner initially served as an offensive quality control coach under Rivera in 2011 and 2012 and then returned to be his quarterbacks coach the past two seasons. Five others also joined Rivera in 2018: Steve Russ (linebackers), Travelle Wharton (assistant offensive line), Drew Terrell (assistant wide receivers), Todd Storm (offensive quality control) and Vincent Rivera (defensive quality control).

Before last season, Rivera added Jim Hostler as wide receivers coach and Ben Jacobs as assistant special teams coach. Both will assume the same responsibilities in Washington.

And if that is not enough, the Redskins announced Monday that they were hiring Jennifer King as a full-time coaching intern after King interned for the Panthers the past two offseasons.

"Jennifer is a bright young coach and will be a great addition to our staff," Rivera said in a press release. "Her familiarity with my expectations as a coach and my firsthand knowledge of her work ethic and preparation were big factors in bringing her to the Redskins."

In addition to familiarity, Rivera built his staff on positional expertise. Turner helped Cam Newton and Teddy Bridgewater become Pro Bowlers early in their careers, and Rivera hopes he can do the same with rising sophomore Dwayne Haskins. Matsko spearheaded a rushing attack that finished in the top 10 in three of the past four years. Hoener turned Greg Olsen into a solid tight end, while Hostler has been integral in the development of several young wideouts.

Success follows the other coaches, too. Rivera's first hire, which came a day after he was announced as the head coach on New Year's Day, was defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, a respected defensive mind and two-time head coach.

"Jack and I spent a day just talking football, which really convinced me that he wants to get back in," Rivera said of Del Rio, who last coached in the NFL in 2017. "He's ready to get back in and he wants to be part of what we're doing."

Elsewhere, quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese excelled with several young signal-callers like Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton and Baker Mayfield.

And leading the defensive backs will be Chris Harris, who coached first-team All-Pros Desmond King and Derwin James with the Los Angeles Chargers.

"I told [Redskins Owner Dan Snyder], I wanted to assemble a coaching staff that was truly dedicated to the players, and teachers," Rivera said at his introductory press conference Jan. 2. "I don't have to have a great big name. What I have to have is great teachers. We want to teach these guys how to play football to the best of their abilities, to the best of our abilities and also to be good quality young men off the field."

At least two coaches already on the Redskins staff fit this description: running backs coach Randy Jordan and special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor.

"Randy [Jordan] was a guy that I really liked the way he handled his players, and when you talk to the guys that he coached, you talk to guys, you talk to [Adrian] Peterson, you listen to them talk about Randy," Rivera said. "You listen to the coaches that were here that I had talked to and Randy's name kept coming up as a positive and I thought, "OK, this is the guy that I want to be part of the staff as well. So, I invited him to stay as part of it, too."

As for Kaczor, many people recommended him to Rivera before he joined the Redskins in 2019, when he guided the team to top 10 finishes in nearly every special teams category. Combine that with glowing reviews from players, and Kaczor was another deserving holdover.

"I sat down with Nate, interviewed Nate and decided right off the bat I didn't need to interview anybody else," Rivera said. "I was going to keep Nate and have him as part of our team."

Regardless of position or past experience, every assistant coach will operate under the "player-centered culture" that Rivera intends to implement in Washington. Offensively, Turner said the system will be based around the personnel. On defense, Del Rio said they'll implement a 4-3 scheme that better suits the team's solid interior linemen and explosive pass rushers.

With the full staff now in place, the focus has shifted to the team's No. 1 priority: the players. There are a lot of decisions to be made before the new league year begins in March.

"Those questions have to be answered and we're going to start the 10th," Rivera said during Super Bowl week. "Why? Because we're getting ready for the combine, we're getting ready for free agency and then we're getting ready for the draft. So, we have to take the first big step in the next four phases."

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