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Sunday, January 17, 2021

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Last week, Ron Rivera said he had what would have to be considered a major regret about his first year as head coach of the Washington Football Team.

He admitted he should have held a competition for the quarterback position last summer.


“I think the biggest thing I would have done was I would have created a few more opportunities mixing everybody around, as opposed to saying, ‘OK, I’m going to stick with just the one guy,’ and do that,” he told 106.7 The Fan. “I think now in retrospect — and again, hindsight is 20/20 — I would, and it’s something that I’m going to chalk up as an experience. You know, you learn from experience. And if I ever get in this situation again, I will look to do it differently.”

This is a pretty big admission for a head coach who had been making decisions in this league for nine years in Carolina before he came to Washington. Let’s face it, the most important decision a head coach makes is about the most important position on the field — the quarterback.

So what stopped him? Why was “the one guy” — owner Dan Snyder’s handpicked quarterback, Dwayne Haskins — simply handed the starting job? What stopped Rivera from holding a competition — especially when he himself had declared numerous times from the day he was hired to the start of training camp — that there would be a quarterback competition?

Back in January, just after he was hired, Rivera said that whoever starts at quarterback for the team next season will have to earn the job.

“I’m not sitting there and anointing anybody,” he said. “This is a competition.”

Then, after Rivera traded for one of his old quarterbacks from Carolina — Kyle Allen, who had started 12 games for him a season earlier — the coach declared again there would be a quarterback competition, at least between Haskins and Allen. At this point, Alex Smith was not in the conversation.

“I think it will be a good competition,” Rivera said. “I really do, mostly because having been around Kyle for two seasons I’ve kind of watched him interact with the quarterbacks that were in the room. You know he was in the room with a very strong personality in Cam Newton and Kyle handled himself tremendously.”

Then, when Washington’s training camp opened, Rivera added Smith to the mix.

Asked what would happen to the quarterback position if Smith, then on the cusp of returning to the field after recovering from a devastating broken leg, passed his football portion of the team physical, the coach said: “I think this is a guy that becomes part of our equation. That is the truth of the matter.”

What equation? The competition?

“It’s going to be pure competition,” Rivera said. “I like the fact that we have a good group of guys that will push each other. The biggest thing is how each guy develops over time. … We’re going to create as many game-like situations in practice. …”

But they didn’t do that, according to Rivera. Haskins got the bulk of the work, and Haskins was named the starter in early September.

“He’s lived up to his part of our conversation in January. Because of that, I’m living up to mine,” the coach said. “He deserves the opportunity. He’s going to get my support.”

This is more like testimony than a tribute.

Does anyone really think that Haskins — who was drafted by Snyder, and inherited by Rivera — actually won the job over Allen, the quarterback Rivera traded a fifth-round pick to acquire? Are we to believe that Haskins, who was benched and cut before the end of his season because of his work ethic, among other problems, was outworking Allen last summer? Or knew the playbook better than Allen, who ran this offense in Carolina for Rivera?

And what of Alex Smith, who was cleared by doctors for football activity in mid-August? Was he part of the equation as Rivera said when training camp opened?

What happened to the competition that Rivera, at season’s end, said he wished he had undertaken — which would mean it never really happened like he wanted it to?

There was another time when the Washington coach declared the quarterback position would be decided by a competition. After the 2014 season ended, Jay Gruden had Kirk Cousins, Robert Griffin III and Colt McCoy on the roster and the starter for the next season, the then-coach said, would be determined in training camp. 

“Until that position is earned, you have to have a competition,” Gruden said. “And I anticipate us having a competition in a lot of spots, and quarterback’s no different next year.”

But about two months later, weeks before camp began, Gruden backtracked.

“Robert ended the season as the starter,” Gruden told reporters in a now-infamous hostage-tape interview at the NFL Combine. “We anticipate (Griffin at the starter) going forward.”

At his season-ending press conference two weeks ago, Rivera said he was going to meet with Snyder and basically tell him what he, the coach, was going to do with the quarterback position.

“I will visit with the owner at some point whether it’s tonight or tomorrow and basically talk to him about my intent going forward,” he said. “From that point on, we’ll start the evaluation process of our football team. Obviously, the quarterback situation will be one of the topics of conversation.”

Rivera’s intent? Is there someone else’s intent that matters?

Don’t answer that. When it comes to Washington’s NFL franchise, it’s a rhetorical question.

Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan and on The Kevin Sheehan Podcast.


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