Ron Rivera made the call to fire defensive line coach Sam Mills III on Tuesday, a move that JP Finlay called "a really big deal" moments later.
Rivera announced the move to reporters Tuesday afternoon, describing it as a "difficult" decision to make. Mills has been a member of Rivera's coaching staffs in Washington and in Carolina, dating back to 2011. He's served as Washington's defensive line coach since 2020, the same year Rivera arrived on the job. Jeff Zgonina, previously Washington's assistant defensive line coach, will step into Mills' role.
Defensive leader Jonathan Allen said he was "sad" to learn of the decision Tuesday morning, saying he got along really well with Mills, but that people have to remember "it’s a great game, but a terrible business."
"I expected Sam Mills to go in January," Finlay said on 106.7 The Fan moments after the news was announced. "I thought it was a necessary change for this coaching staff. I know and have reported that some of the D-linemen didn't have the best relationship with Sam Mills. But I was told by a bunch of folks Ron is too tight with Sam and the Mills family for this to happen. The fact that Ron Rivera allowed in that press conference that, yeah, this was incredibly difficult..."
"I don't know how to say this," he continued. "I recognize that people think this is just a position coach, maybe he's not that big of a deal. This is a big deal, folks. This is a really big deal. Ron Rivera has been steadfast in his commitment to his staff. They haven't made changes. This is a big change at a position where they have invested a TON. First-round picks.
"They just gave Jon Allen a huge contract. This is the defensive line. The defensive line is supposed to be the strength of this team. Obviously it wasn't, and I think this is a move that highlights 'we're not gonna put up with status quo anymore, and if guys aren't getting it done, we're going to make some changes.' I think this puts a lot of pressure on other defensive coaches."
Both recently retired Ryan Kerrigan and Hall of Famer Warren Sapp were at Commanders camp on Tuesday, though Rivera characterized their presence as purely coincidental, saying that Sapp was previously scheduled to appear today and Kerrigan is continuing to shadow the defensive coaching staff.
"I'm not trying to go overboard here, but this is a big deal," Finlay went on to say. "This is Ron Rivera stepping out of his comfort zone and firing one of his guys that came up with him from Carolina. This is a move I thought could happen back in January. To do this now, on Aug. 9 when you have a preseason game in four days, is a really big deal and I think folks need to understand something must have happened here."
"Let's be real. And it's no coincidence," he added. "In the last couple weeks, we've seen Ryan Kerrigan out here a bunch. Now he's probably not ready to take over as a defensive line coach. Especially [since] he's a pass-rusher his whole career, not an interior guy, and sometimes you have one guy for the edge rushers, one guy for the interior guys. Warren Sapp was here during OTAs. Warren Sapp just happened to be here today."
Mills' father, who died in 2005, was posthumously enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame only three days ago, a ceremony Mills III attended. Mills Jr. is the only player in Carolina Panthers history to have his number retired and was the first player inducted into their Hall of Honor.
Coincidentally, Washington plays Carolina in its first preseason game of the year this coming Saturday.