When he took over the Philadelphia 76ers almost a dozen years ago, Josh Harris said he didn’t view his newly purchased basketball team as a distressed asset. “That has a negative connotation,” Harris said.
Twelve years later, having bought his childhood football team, he makes no such claims about the Washington Commanders.
“We will work tirelessly to make you proud once again of this franchise,” Harris said.
With his background in private equity, Harris has made a living in buying distressed properties and then turning them around. The Commanders will be the billionaire’s latest challenge. But at his introductory press conference Friday, Harris said that restoring the Commanders will take time.
As excited as he appeared to be to own the franchise, Harris stressed patience would be required in rebuilding Washington’s reputation and brand. Among the priorities, he said, would be to invest in upgrades to FedEx Field, re-engage with fans and make sure he was doing enough to put his team in a position to win. And over the long haul, Harris and Co. must build a new stadium and determine whether “the Commanders” is the right name for the franchise.
There’s a lot of work to be done, Harris said.
“It’s going to take a while,” Harris said. “Look, I know everyone’s impatient. We’re impatient. Believe me, I’m sweating this more than anyone else out there, but it’s going to take a little bit of time.”
Asked how close he felt the Commanders were to ultimately winning, Harris said he’s “very supportive” of the job that coach Ron Rivera has done over the past few seasons. But, he acknowledged “this is a big season” ahead.
After all, Rivera is in the fourth year of a five-year contract. And, after missing the playoffs the last two years, this coming season likely still qualifies as a make-or-break year for Rivera — even amid Harris’ calls for patience. Harris said he looks forward to “learning and watching.”
With Harris’ other sports teams, the owner has become known for implementing innovative strategies that have helped them get back on track. In Philadelphia, that was “The Process” — a multi-year teardown strategy in which the 76ers bottomed out to get top talent and build from the ground up. The New Jersey Devils, Harris’ NHL team, has also relied heavily on rebuilding through the draft and becoming a data-centric organization.
Harris said the specifics of running an NFL team would be “very different” compared to his time in the NBA and NHL. But there are broad philosophies, Harris said, that he would look to carry over, such as investing in analytics and sports science. The goal was to “create an edge” for players and the coaching staff, he said.
“You win championships with the best people in the front office, the best coaching staff,” Harris said.“You win by investing. You win by creating a fan experience where people want to come out and support the team. This is really hard. And you win by creating an amazing culture, which we talked about is about respect, inclusivity and diversity.”
A championship, however, has still eluded Harris in his other sports. The 76ers have advanced no further than the second round of the playoffs under Harris — despite making the postseason in each of the last six years. The Devils, by contrast, have made the playoffs only twice in Harris’ 10 seasons, and are coming off a second-round exit to the Carolina Hurricanes.
But those who have gotten to know Harris have said the owner is thoroughly committed to winning. NBA legend Magic Johnson, now a Commanders limited partner, said he wouldn’t have joined Harris’ ownership group if he didn’t feel that commitment. Rivera said all of his conversations with Harris have centered around winning, adding it was clear that Harris would provide “the necessary resources” required.
“They know it’s all going to be about winning,” said former Washington coach Joe Gibbs, whose racing company Harris invests in. “Hopefully that’s what we get.”
In mapping out his vision for the Commanders, Harris, a Chevy Chase native, remembered the glory days of the franchise — from the “rumbling” at RFK Stadium to the team’s three Super Bowls to watching players such as Joe Theismann and Darrell Green. At 58 years old, Harris is old enough to remember when Washington was the No. 1 franchise in the NFL.
“Not the Dallas Cowboys,” he said. “The Washington Redskins.”
His goal is to get the franchise there again. No matter how long it takes.
“The opportunity is up here, and the work is up here,” Harris said. “And that’s just fine for us. You know, that’s what we’re about.”