Ron Rivera Facing Toughest Challenges of His Lengthy NFL Career
NFL alum Ron Rivera knew he would face many new challenges when he agreed last December to become head coach of the Washington Football Team. At that time, the team was known as the Washington Redskins.
Rivera had been fired in his ninth season as head coach of the Panthers only weeks earlier. During those years, he had taken the Panthers to four postseason appearances but the team’s relatively new owner wanted to name his own head coach. Rivera was released.
Rivera, a nine-year (1984-92) linebacker for the Bears during his playing days, inherited a Washington team that lacked star personnel and had not been in the playoffs in five years.
Coach Rivera quickly became the new face of the organization and its primary spokesman. He brought in an experienced coaching staff and made key changes in the scouting department. As it turned out, those were the easier decisions. Other major challenges—professional and personal– were ahead.
The ongoing pandemic forced the league to close down all 32 team facilities in March. Rivera and his new coaches were forced to work remotely and not able to conduct the in-person player interviews that are especially essential to a new staff. Eventually, it was determined there would be no preseason games which meant Rivera would not see his new players in game action until the regular season begins this weekend.
Non-football events affected the team as well. After several police shootings of Black individuals around the country, there was a renewed call for social justice. In professional sports, there was a national focus on team nicknames, including the Redskins name which many believed was a racial slur. Rivera was spokesman on that issue and said publicly he hoped a new nickname would be in place prior to the start of the season.
In mid-July, a Washington Post story detailed sexual harassment allegations by 15 former female employees of the team which immediately resulted in two longtime members of the player personnel department being fired. Again, Rivera was the out-front spokesman for the organization. The league office now has taken over the investigation into the former employees’ complaints.
“Dan Snyder brought me here to change the culture and create an environment of inclusion among employees,” Rivera told the media. Shortly afterward, he dismissed a young veteran running back who was arrested on domestic violence charges.
Reports also surfaced this summer that three minority partners of team owner Dan Snyder were dissatisfied and trying to sell their interests in the club.
The most recent challenge for Rivera was of a more personal nature. He was diagnosed in late August with a Squamous Cell Carcinoma cancer in a lymph node but has continued to coach his club. He began treatments two days ago and plans are to have defensive coordinator and NFL alum Jack Del Rio take over any part of a practice Rivera may miss.
“This form of cancer is in its early stages and is very treatable and curable,” the 58-year old Rivera says. “I’m going through the proper treatments and this will be fine.”
The first eight months of the Ron Rivera era in the nation’s capital have been anything but ordinary. We at NFL Alumni hope that the resilient coach and his team will be able to fall into a more normal routine once the season is underway this weekend.