Ron Rivera: Redskins need a plan, process and ultimate goal


When Ron Rivera took over the Washington Redskins at the start of the new year, he emphasized changing the culture as his most important task.

Stating a goal for a 'culture change' is often nebulous, something that sounds good to fans but no one can seem to quantify or properly define, thus making it difficult to track when the culture does, in fact, ultimately change. If it ever does. But that doesn't seem to be the case for Rivera, who laid out his plan of attack against the Redskins' reputed 'damn good' culture that developed under Bruce Allen.
Below is a Q&A presentation of Rivera's interview with 106.7 The Fan's Craig Hoffman (with latter's questions in bold):
What is it about football that you love that you have dedicated your life to this?

Well, you know, first and foremost, football – and this is gonna be a little bit of a cliche – has been really good to me. It's how I got the opportunity to go to the University of California – Berkeley and graduate, how it helped create the opportunity to get me into the NFL, how it's really given me the opportunity to become a coach, how it's given me the opportunity to be a guy that can really kind of share a message with young people. And so, I've really looked at it as really, truly that vehicle to help me to get to where I am today. So I respect the game. I have a tremendous passion for the game. I do love everything about the game, except for the injury part of it.

What message do you share with these young men?

Well, what I tell them first and foremost, so everybody understands, it's about getting the opportunity and then taking advantage of the opportunity. Not everybody will get a chance to play in this league. You know, there's a transition rate of about 300 guys a year, that come into the league and leave the league. So the average career expectancy is a little bit under four years, so that doesn't mean you're gonna play forever. So when you get a chance, you've got to make hay. When you're a player, you've got to protect your investment, and that's you. Take the best opportunity you can to be ready to play, and then go out and compete and take advantage of it.

What are your core philosophies and where did they develop?

Well, my first philosophy more so than anything else is you talk about what you have to have. And this is where the fit comes in for me and why I took the job with the Washington Redskins. And I shared this with Mr. Snyder, and we talked about this and he shared his philosophy and his belief. First and foremost, you have to have a vision, you've got to have a plan, a process, and at the end, you've got to have the ultimate goal. Well, the vision is I want to be able to create a winning, sustainable culture for us here. I want us to be able to continue that for a period of time. I was able to do that in Carolina for nine seasons. I want to make sure we have a plan that we all agree upon, that we use the process to execute the plan, which will take us to what the ultimate goal is, and that's winning Super Bowls. That to me I think is the most important thing that I've got to be able to get across to our team, and we all have to share in that vision, we all have to believe in the plan, we all have to execute the process, and that way we can reach the ultimate goal. That to me is probably the most important aspect of it all.

What are the key elements of the process and how have you refined them over your coaching career?

Well, the keys to the process are, more than anything else, is making sure first and foremost that the guys understand that this is what it's gonna take. Then they understand that this is what we're gonna do and how we want to do it. When we play defense, we're gonna play accountability defense. In other words, we're a gap control, downhill defense that our front's gonna play the run on the way to the quarterback; that our linebacker's gonna read and react, and get downhill and make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage; that our DBs, when the ball's in the air, it's their ball just as much as it's anybody else's. Those are the things that when we talk about the plan and the process, that guys have to understand. Our offensive front five have to understand that they have to protect our quarterback, they have to open the holes. Our running backs have to understand that when they get the ball, they've got to go forward. Our receivers, when the ball's thrown to you, you have to be a play-maker. That's what we've got to get across. That's part of the plan and the process.

Bill Belichick defines people's roles better than anyone else. Every coach will say, 'Hey, do your job,' but Belichick will tell you what your job is. It seems like that is also something you are striving to do, where you, by position, you're like, 'Hey, this is your job.'

One of the things that I want to make sure everybody understands is that when you delegate the authority, you have to set the standard. So when I talk to my tight end coach, Pete Hoener, 'Pete, you're our tight end coach. I want you to coach these guys to this standard.' That's what you have to do. Coach Hoener's gonna talk to his players and say, 'This is how we're gonna play as tight ends. This is the standard that's set.' So to me, I agree. It is defining what their role is, but even more so, defining what it takes within that role, so when you say 'do your job,' they know what their job exactly is.

Offensively, Scott Turner is going to take some of the things that he's learned over the years from his father. I'm sure he's got some other things he would like to do that you guys have discussed. What offensively, philosophically do you see this team being and how much input do you have on that as a head coach, as a guy with more of a defensive background?

Well, I think the biggest thing and the input I'm gonna have, really, is this. We talk about things and Scott comes to me and says, 'Hey, this is what I want to do.' I'll say, 'Scott, what are you seeing? How do you want to attack this particular defense?' I'll watch the opponent's defense and I'll be able to come in and say, 'Hey, from my perspective, from what I've seen, this is what you need to work on. This is what I think will work. I don't think that'll work.' That'll be my role, will be there to understand, to help Scott understand and to give my advice. And at some point, say, 'Hey, I would like to see us do this' or 'I would like to see us do that.'

Methods are many, principles are few. Methods don't always last, principles always do. Basically, we talk about these big ideas. Those are the things that are gonna last over time. But as the game has evolved, the rules have changed. How much have you had to change how you teach over time, and some of the finer points of technique to make sure that your players can stay in a position to succeed?

I don't know if you change the base fundamentals of football as much as you change how you handle the change. In other words, running, blocking, tackling, catching, throwing – all of those are always gonna be the same, but how you handle what you're gonna see, that's the difference. Like right now, everybody's talking about the zone-read. Now the zone-read with what we call jet-motion, or ghost-motion, or ghost-action or jet-action. Now that's gonna create an opportunity for you to have to play something and react to something differently. That's probably the biggest thing, is it's about how you handle those things.

Have you noticed players' abilities to handle information change over the last decade-and-a-half, two decades you've been coaching?

I don't know if I'd say changed over a decade-and-a-half as much as it's changed recently, because of the style of play we're getting from college football. One thing that I have seen that has created some of the change has been the way we practice and prepare. You know, you don't make as much contact as you used to during practice, so I think your preparation, your callousness to the contact that you're gonna make isn't what it used to be.

Is that a problem that you think the NFL can fix? Or do you think that that's gonna be something that you guys as coaches just have to deal with, because there's no going back? 

We as coaches are gonna have to deal with it, but I think the biggest thing is the players have to understand what's going on now. I think the players have to understand and take it upon themselves that they have to practice better, they have to practice more efficiently, because we can only do so much for them up to the rules.

We haven't had a chance to see you practice yet. What is Ron Rivera doing during a practice? The coach that we had the last five years was a quarterback guy – he was always with the quarterbacks. How do you float around? How do you try to spend your time during practice?

I try to go from one spot to the other during individual periods, during specific periods, and then I stand behind the offense and I'll cheer on one side or the other, or cheer on the whole team. The biggest thing you'll see me (do) is you'll see me talking about tempo, and you'll be talking to me about picking up the tempo, playing fast, playing physical, playing hard. Those things you'll always hear me talking about, because what'll happen is you can't simulate game speed, but if there's somebody constantly trying to push for it and get those players to understand how important it is to practice fast and play fast, I think it helps.

You ever try to incite anything? I'm gonna root for this one side a little bit more today, try to get the competitive juices flowing?

Well, I will tell you this. I will try to make it as hard as I can for the defense, because there's nothing easy about the defense. There really isn't. This game is not designed for the defense to have it easy, so if I am gonna favor one side, I'll favor the offense because I want the defense being put under as much stress as possible.

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