- The Washington Times
Monday, December 30, 2019

ASHBURN — Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder fired longtime confidant and team president Bruce Allen on Monday after a decade of “winning off the field” while losing on it, as the franchise looks for a fresh start with former Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera.

Rivera, considered the front-runner for the Redskins’ coaching vacancy, would be the 10th head coach (including interims) in Snyder’s 20 years of owning the team.

Snyder, who has watched as years of disappointment, controversy and bad luck eroded a once-loyal fan base, issued a terse statement Monday announcing the end of the Allen era.

“Like our passionate fan base, I recognize we have not lived up to the high standards set by great Redskins teams, coaches and players who have come before us,” he said in the statement. “As we reevaluate our team leadership, culture and process for winning football games, I am excited for the opportunities that lie ahead to renew our singular focus and purpose of bringing championship football back to Washington, D.C.”

Firing the owner’s right-hand man doesn’t solve all the team’s problems — especially for those disillusioned fans who see Snyder himself as a bigger impediment. In 21 seasons as owner, Washington is 142-193-1 — fifth-worst in the NFL in that span.

A move in the making

Allen’s exit from the franchise loomed for weeks. The son of iconic Redskins coach George Allen, he had hardly been seen with Sndyer in recent months — a departure from when the two often walked side by side on the field before games. After the Redskins’ 47-16 loss Sunday, Snyder’s motorcade exited the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium — without Allen.

Allen, a veteran NFL executive, joined the Redskins in late 2009 and compiled a 62-100-1 record over his 10 years with the team.

Over his tenure, the Redskins were plagued with off-the-field incidents and on-the-field embarrassments. Some of Allen’s lows included star left tackle Trent Williams’ holdout, the signing of linebacker Reuben Foster days after a domestic violence arrest, the failure to reach a long-term deal with quarterback Kirk Cousins and the messy firing of general manager Scot McCloughan. The Redskins made the playoffs just twice.

Fans and the press routinely mocked Allen’s foot-in-mouth remarks about a franchise that was “winning off the field” and a losing locker room with a “damn good culture.”

Allen’s departure was widely celebrated among the team’s fans.

ESPN fantasy football expert Matthew Berry, a longtime Redskins fan who turned 50 on Sunday, said in a video posted on Twitter that of all the birthday gifts he received, the best one was Allen’s firing.

“#FireBruceAllen actually worked,” said Berry, a reference to a social media campaign calling for the executive’s job. “I’m back. I’m back as a fan, baby. … I was out as a fan of the Redskins until Bruce Allen was no longer there. He is no longer there. I’m back in, baby.”

Inside the locker room at the team’s headquarters, players were more reserved.

“I do feel personal responsibility a little bit with my injury,” said Alex Smith, the quarterback Allen brought in to replace the departed Cousins.

Speaking to local reporters for the first time since breaking his leg in 2018, Smith defended Allen’s efforts. “You look at this year and you take in my situation, Trent’s [Williams], Jordan’s [Reed], I mean there are some key guys missing,” Smith said. “It’s a responsibility. Everybody puts in a lot of time and effort and sacrifice in this. It’s hard to win football games.”

Said linebacker Ryan Kerrigan: “You hate to see anyone lose their job.”

The Redskins did not name an Allen successor, but his No. 2, Eric Schaffer, the team’s senior vice president of football operations, is believed to be taking a greater role in the organization.

ESPN analyst and former Redskins scout Louis Riddick is also interested in the job.

But Snyder appears intent on hiring his next coach first.

‘He gets the best out of players’

Rivera was fired mid-season by the Panthers after owner David Tepper told the coach the team wanted to go in a different direction. But the 57-year-old defensive guru, who took the Panthers to the Super Bowl four years ago, was being mentioned in connection with several openings.

The Redskins acted fast in pursuing Rivera, bringing him and his wife for a visit on Monday. The two sides are in negotiations and the Redskins are reportedly prepared to give Rivera significant say over personnel decisions.

Rivera brings with him a reputation as an old school coach who runs a tight ship. A defensive-minded coach, Rivera went 76-63-1 in Carolina, making the playoffs four times in nine seasons. He helped transform the Panthers from a 2-14 team to the Super Bowl runner-up in 2015.

Personality-wise, Rivera is known as a passionate coach who is beloved by his players.

“He gets the best out of players, simple as that,” said Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, who had his only All-Pro year under Rivera with the Panthers. “Cut and dry, short answer … He builds men.”

Norman, who ended the season for the Redskins on the bench, predicted a culture change at Ashburn under Rivera.

“Everything, as you see it today, would be different. I’ll say that.”

Rivera’s potential coaching staff has not publicly taken shape, though there is speculation he could reunite with his former defensive coordinator, Steve Wilks, who could be available after the Browns fired coach Freddie Kitchens on Sunday.

Rivera also would have to find an offensive mind to help guide quarterback Dwayne Haskins’ development heading into his second year. Current Redskins offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell could be an option, and while meeting with reporters Monday, the quarterback who just finished his rookie year lobbied for keeping the 34-year-old play-caller. “We have grown a lot throughout the year,” Haskins said. “He is someone that I think is going to be a really great offensive coach in the NFL.”

Winning on the field

In the end, Snyder’s moves will be judged by how many games the Redskins win. Losses and long-term dysfunction have driven away fans, with Washington seeing a 21% drop in attendance during the Allen era.

The Redskins have a crucial offseason ahead. They can free significant salary-cap space by cutting Norman (saving $12.5 million), Reed ($8.5 million) and wide receiver Paul Richardson ($6.5 million after June 1). They also have the second pick in the draft.

Players and coaches, meanwhile, insist the team is close — despite this year’s 3-13 record.

“There’s a lot of talent across the board, across the defensive front. There’s young, emerging players on offense,” said interim coach Bill Callahan, who took over for the fired Jay Gruden in mid-season.

“Guys are close to getting this thing turned around,” running back Chris Thompson said.

Numbers suggest otherwise. The Redskins were outscored by 169 points in 2019 — third-worst in franchise history. Their offense and defense were among the NFL’s worst statistically, ranked 31st and 27th, respectively. The team could use significant upgrades at a variety of positions such as safety and offensive line.

There will be more changes. Head trainer Larry Hess was fired after 17 years, while Callahan and his staff have yet to officially be let go.

Even someone like Kerrigan, who has one year left on his contract with no guaranteed money remaining, acknowledged the uncertainty ahead.

“When you go 3-13 and you realize there are going to be a lot of changes in the building, I don’t think anyone in the building feels comfortable,” Kerrigan said. “I’m hoping I’m still a part of this thing going forward.”

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