LOVERRO: Wrong from the start

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So where did Ron Rivera go wrong?

You could make the case that it was the minute he accepted a phone call from Washington owner Dan Snyder. At the end of the 2019 season, despite being fired as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers and despite having six losing seasons in nine years there, Rivera was still a respected coach in the NFL — not the object of ridicule that he has since become.

He had options. There were other jobs, if not that year, then likely soon after. The feeling was that after Snyder had chewed up another coach, he was damn lucky to get Rivera to take the job with an organization that had been a train wreck for decades, no matter what Joe Gibbs whispered in Rivera’s ear. 

There was a mountain of public evidence and private stories about the toxicity on and off the field in Washington. Rivera signed on anyway, and then Snyder showed him what toxic really meant, as the coach found himself issuing statements disavowing any connection to incriminating congressional testimony.

Rivera had enough to do. He had to find a quarterback, right?

It may be obvious what went wrong — no quality NFL quarterback in the four years he has been here as the coach and top personnel boss — but where did it begin?

It started as soon as he took the job, when he meekly accepted the owner’s quarterback as his own. It began with the decision to live with Dwayne Haskins instead of telling the owner, “That’s your quarterback. Not mine. I’m going to go find one, because someday, a few years from now I will tell reporters, ‘The truth is this is a quarterback-driven league, and if you look at the teams that have been able to sustain success, they’ve been able to build it around a specific quarterback.’”

It doesn’t matter what grades Rivera said they had in Carolina on Haskins coming out of Ohio State. There were red flags surrounding him from the night he was drafted in 2019 until his life ended tragically when he was fatally struck by a dump truck trying to cross Interstate 595 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at 7 a.m. on Aug. 9, 2022.

The biggest alarm for Rivera should have been that Haskins was the owner’s son’s high school buddy who Snyder demanded the front office draft, over their objections, with the 15th pick in the first round. Rivera should have channeled his inner Marty Schottenheimer and told Snyder to play with his boat while the coach devoted his time to the most important position on the team — quarterback. 

He had all the leverage over Snyder, having just signed a five-year deal with the radioactive owner and still being a highly regarded coach not yet poisoned by the aura of self-destruction that engulfed this franchise under Snyder. Yet Rivera went along with taking on the owner’s quarterback as his hope to begin his tenure in Washington.

If Rivera had made that stand then instead of wasting time on Haskins, the two top quarterback prospects available with the second pick in the 2020 draft were Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert, after Joe Burrow went to Cincinnati with the first selection.

Rivera had the opportunity for a dramatic beginning. He had the chance to begin the rebuild with the biggest building block he would need — the quarterback. Several years later, Rivera would tell everyone that the difference maker for winning teams was building around a successful quarterback.

But he drafted pass rusher Chase Young with that second pick. 

Mind you, now, Young was considered a generational-type of prospect, a difference-maker on defense. But he was not the foundation on which a rebuild should begin. He was not a quarterback. Now Young is in a San Francisco 49ers uniform, traded earlier this season after he failed to live up to those expectations. You’ll see him Sunday when the 49ers come to town for the latest bloodbath.

Rivera did actually make a quarterback statement a few months after he took over. He traded a fifth-round pick for Kyle Allen, his backup quarterback from Carolina, supposedly to create a quarterback competition for Haskins. But Rivera never seemed to understand what a real quarterback competition actually was. 

And so here he is, with a 4-11 record, coming off the 30-28 loss to the New York Jets, and wasting away the season with a fifth-round pick at quarterback — an illusion named Sam Howell, now benched twice in the last two weeks for the quarterback Rivera brought in to create another phony competition, Jacoby Brissett.

After four years, this was all Rivera had to show for the most important position on the field. 

If only the Rivera of the past would have spoken with and listened to the Rivera of the future, this team might be in a whole different place. Like he told reporters in 2022, “The truth is this is a quarterback-driven league, and if you look at the teams that have been able to sustain success, they’ve been able to build it around a specific quarterback.”

Then again, he probably should have never taken that call from Snyder.

You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

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