The Washington Football Team more than doubled its win total, won its first division title since 2015 and went toe to toe with the NFC's representative in the Super Bowl.
Now consider the parameters: an unprecedented offseason with no preseason games, four different starting quarterbacks and a first-year head coach who battled cancer.
Despite all of these obstacles, Ron Rivera changed the culture of the franchise while making significant strides towards building a sustained winner. And for that, he has been named NFC Coach of the Year as a part of the 51st annual NFL 101 Awards, the Committee of 101 announced Wednesday.
"He's real passionate about the team, about the sport, about the organization," cornerback Ronald Darby said about Rivera. "He a real good coach. I love playing under him because he's going to also be straightforward. He's never going to beat around the bush. And he's just a standup guy."
A three‐time NFC Coach of the Year award winner, Rivera took Washington from worst to first in the NFC East. Rivera's defense was a key piece to the turnaround, ranking fourth in the league in points allowed in 2020 after ranking 27th in 2019, while accumulating 47.0 sacks to rank sixth in the league.
In addition to building a coaching staff and establishing a new culture amid the unusual coronavirus‐impacted offseason, Rivera was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in a lymph node during training camp. Rivera received seven weeks of proton radiation and chemotherapy, missing a handful of practices but never missing a game.
Completing his treatment on Oct. 26, his team went on to win five of its final seven games to secure the division title. Rivera previously earned 101 NFC Coach of the Year honors in 2013 and 2015 as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers and joins Dick Vermeil (1978, 1979,1999) as the only three‐time NFC Coach of the Year honorees in the history of the award.
Rivera is the third Washington coach to win the award, joining George Allen (1971 and 1976) and Joe Gibbs (1983). The award winners are determined by a committee of 101 media members who cover the NFL across the country.
"Probably just fighting," rookie safety Kamren Curl said about what he learned from Rivera. "He always talks about strength, 60 minutes in a game, and then you can see when he was fighting [cancer] and what he was going through during training camp. [He] just never quit because that's something hard to go through, especially when you're trying to run a football team. So it's just like keep fighting. We were down in those games, and we came back. I feel like the whole team embraced that from him."