Thursday, August 11, 2022


So what happened to Sam Mills III? He left for Canton last week to attend his late father’s posthumous induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the Washington Commanders defensive line coach and returned to Ashburn to find out he was fired.

Did someone get in Mills’ ear out there and tell him, “Hey, you’re the one who should be running that Commanders defense. Jack Del Rio, he doesn’t have a clue. Plus he’s crazy, you know.”


Who knows? The reason for the firing of Mills, announced Tuesday by Commanders head coach Ron Rivera, in the middle of training camp still hangs out there like a Carson Wentz incomplete pass. A coup is as good as anything.

“Just a difference in philosophy for the most part and we’ll go from there,” Rivera told reporters when he revealed the news.

A difference in philosophy? What, is Rivera a Plato man and Mills an Aristotle student? A debate about Bertrand Russell and Friedrich Nietzsche that got out of hand?

Something happened between when Mills left town and when he returned — a return that, without context, makes Rivera’s decision look heartless and the organization continuously clueless.

I mean, who fires a coach during training camp — unless something happens, and not an argument about metaphysics.

Rivera tried to explain Wednesday why he made the change. “I think what I’m looking for is that constant push pressure and growth. I want to be more demonstrative. I want to be more in their face, stuff like that. And that is pretty much what we accomplished.”

He was referring to Mills’ replacement, assistant defensive line coach and 17-year NFL veteran Jeff Zgonina, who certainly made his presence felt on the field at training camp Wednesday. “I’m looking for a different style, different vibe,” Rivera said. “A little difference in my philosophy on how I think it needs to be coached.”

It is kind of stunning that Rivera came to this conclusion several weeks into the 2022 training camp. Mills has been on his staff since 2011 in Carolina. He’s been Rivera’s defensive line coach for the two seasons he has been in Washington — the standout season of 2020 and the collapse of last season. He should be very familiar with Sam Mills’ III style and vibe.

You would have thought that the time for a change like this would have been the end of last season, when the defense, which was expected to be the strength of the team, finished 25th in the league. You would have thought when two of his defensive linemen got into a fight on the sideline during their 28-7 loss to Dallas last year would have resulted in the conclusion that the style may not be right or the vibe was wrong.

Or maybe, after a 7-10 season, Rivera might have concluded that someone needed to be held accountable for it —  like many NFL teams would.

I asked Rivera if he considered making coaching changes at the end of last season. His response was un-Rivera-like. “No, and I’m not going to get into specifics at this point,” he said. The Commanders head coach is typically more loquacious in his responses.

In a functional organization, a little context might have made the decision to fire Mills seem more reasonable. But not this outfit. Context is poison for the Commanders. More information about their decisions typically makes them look worse, not better. As I have often said for bad organizations, if things look bad from the outside, they are usually much worse behind the scenes.

Here’s some context for you — after making an appearance at mini-camp, Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp is back at training camp to help with the defensive line after Mills was fired. Sapp was in 2015 fired by the NFL Network after he was accused of sexual violence. The Commanders are the league’s radioactive franchise when it comes to sexual misconduct, under investigation by Congress and the NFL, for the franchise’s shameful history in its treatment of women, in addition to other probes in the District and Virginia for various allegations of a sexual and financial nature.

At the same time, the ringleader of Animal House, Commanders’ owner Skipper Dan the Sailing Man, was getting a sports book license for Ghost Town Field from the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

John Mooney, the agency’s managing director of Regulatory Oversight, said after they spoke to Skipper Dan by phone and conducted their idea of an investigation, the staff was “unable to substantiate any of the allegations against Mr. Snyder.”

This is the Steve Spurrier school of due diligence — “he’s not in jail, is he?”

Skipper Dan also told the agency that he expected a jump in attendance at Ghost Town Field this season because “we finally have ourselves a quarterback.”

He might want to sneak into a Commanders’ practice before he makes such declarations and get a look at Carson Wentz for himself. He might get a different vibe.

Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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