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Interview: Head Coach Ron Rivera

via Redskins

June 10, 2020

Opening statement:

“Two weeks ago, a man sworn to protect us murdered George Floyd in the streets of Minneapolis. This act of pure violence and hate sparked massive protests across the country and people everywhere banded together in solidarity with the Black Community. Right here in our backyard, the nations capital, Washington D.C. there were massive protests, demonstrations outside of the White House, and Pennsylvania Avenue was even transformed into Black Lives Matter Plaza. I was proud of our community for joining together to condemn these societal issues that have faced our community for far too long. I was especially proud of two of our young players: Dwayne Haskins and Chase Young. Dwayne headed into D.C. last weekend to take part in the protests and gain a better understanding of how he can make a difference. Chase took part in the call to action video that some of the top players in our league created last week. Their message was powerful and one that every fan of this league should support.

I have been tasked with leading this entire organization and I have always believed in the mantra that actions speak louder than words. I wanted to share with you all our internal plan that will allow our entire organization to come together, let their voices be heard and ultimately take action. We have created a town hall program led by six members of our organization: Doug Williams, Dr. Monica Paige our team psychologist, our Senior Director of Player Personnel Malcolm Blacken, our Team Chaplain Pastor Brett Fuller, Coach Jennifer King who was formerly a police officer before shifting into the coaching world and Asa Winborne. Everyone in the organization from the front office and players to the ticket sales reps can take part in these discussions. These town halls will give our employees a chance to share experiences, build comradery with colleagues they may have not yet crossed paths with and ultimately come up with actionable items that we can do to make our communities safer for people of color. I’ve spoken at length with Mr. Snyder about these topics and he has agreed to kick start this program with a $250,000 donation.

We have also started the Washington Redskins Black Engagement Network. This network will work to strengthen the Washington Redskins’ commitment to Black employees through professional development, career management, mentoring, networking, an inclusive work environment and community outreach, while creating an inter-cultural understanding of Black employees.

B.E.N. will work with organization executives and leadership to provide support, education and racial equality initiatives in communities across the Washington DC metro area where our employees live and work.

These past two weeks have been a mix of emotions for me. I am saddened by how hurt the Black Community is by what has transpired. I am proud of everyone who is on the right side of this fight against social injustice. I am eager to help in any way I can in making a difference. Lastly, I am honored to work at an organization with so many people who want to change our society for the better. Black Lives matter. We can’t be afraid to say it. I will say it again. Black Lives matter.”

On how hard the last two weeks have been for him, how much has he talked with the players and how bad he has wanted to say something:

“When the situation first occurred and George Floyd was murdered, a few days later I had a Zoom meeting with the team. Just the players first and talked with them. We opened it up and really didn’t have a big discussion but we opened it up and talked to our guys. One of the things we really wanted to do in thinking afterwards is what we can do to have a plan of action. One of the realizations and something that I learned that was a mistake on my part that took me so long to react was that I also had to talk to the entire organization. It is something that I have to get used to. We had a Zoom meeting this week, we talked to the employees and talked about what our plan of action is going to be. We really had to think this out and made sure we had an actionable plan, not just talking about it but that we were committed to actual change. We developed this idea of having these focus groups where we could sit down and talk about things. Discuss it over Zoom as to what we can do to impact our community. I talked to Mr. Snyder about that and he was all for that so we had a meeting on Monday, we explained what we wanted to do and we invited everyone into it. In the organizational meeting, we had over 255 people in attendance and had an opportunity to speak to them. Tomorrow, we have our first meeting and Friday we will have another meeting with the groups and try and come up with ideas, actionable ideas. We just don’t want to talk about it, we want to get involved. We want it to be really thought out.”

On RB Adrian Peterson saying he will be kneeling during the anthem:

“I was fortunate enough to have [S] Eric Reid with me in Carolina. It was real interesting because we went and decided we were going to sign Eric only on football. We weren’t going to talk to him about what his intent was as far as the anthem goes or after. He and I had a great conversation. One thing I did before we signed Eric and I did it again last week was that I read the Constitution. I read the Bill of Rights, the Amendments and the Oath of Office just so I understood everything that I needed to going into the situation. When Eric and I talked, it was an eye-opener for everyone. It also helped me to really understand what the protest was about in terms of taking a knee. It had nothing to do with our military, nothing to do with our first responders, nothing to do with the flag. It had everything to do with social injustice and brutality, police brutality and working to get that corrected. I was fine with it because of what I had read and because of what the Constitution said and what the Bill of Rights talked about. The right to freedom, life and liberty. It is there, it talks about the rights that we have. It is their choice, their decision. I support it because it is in our Constitution. That is what our military personnel fought for. Four our rights and for our safety.”

On who he talked to and leaned on during this situation:

“I talked to a lot of people to be honest with you. I talked to several sports psychologists including [Redskins Team Clinician] Dr. [Monica] Paige. I talked to a gentleman named Kevin Elko who I have worked with since I entered the league and sought his counsel. I talked to some people in the clergy including a priest that I had as someone that led a fellowship for me between he and I and asked his ideas and thoughts. I reached out to an activist, a gentleman named Tony Porter who has worked with me when I was in Carolina and has worked with the league and sought counsel from him as well. I have a friend in Chicago, she’s a social worker and she has worked with a program called TASC and we had a great conversation about those things as well. I know I’m forgetting someone because I reached out to a number of people. A Clinician named Tish Guerin who works with the Carolina Panthers and I have worked with her and talked to her as well. I wanted to get some insights about things. I talked to Frank Luntz about it and what he thought and listening to him as well. I wrote a list of people. I reached out to former police officers, I talked to my oldest brother who is a retired police officer in San Jose, California. I talked to a sergeant, Cynthia Cook, who is one of my wife’s best friends and has worked on some social initiatives as well in California. I talked to Mike Jacob who is a retired police officer here in the D.C. area. I wanted to get ideas and thoughts from folks. Really, as we move forward with this program just be well educated on it. Try and hear what our community is telling us. This program that we are doing and this money that Mr. Snyder is putting in is to help us try and keep it in the DMV and in our community so we can work with the local community and try and find answers or programs that can help find answers.”

On Dwayne Haskins Jr., his growth and how he has handled all of this:

“I think he has done very well with it. It has been neat because he will send me a text, sometimes a little late and I won’t get it until the next morning because I am asleep, but he is really taking what he and I talked about to heart. I really do appreciate it because it shows maturity as well. He is a young man who is just learning the game, came out of college early obviously and is just one of those things where as you see him grow and develop, you can see those types of things that you are hoping for. I appreciate the attitude and effort that he has approached this with. I am really looking forward to seeing him in person. I pop in and out of the Zoom meetings, we text back and forth. We actually had a phone call last night and we talked a little bit about how things are going for him. I am pretty excited to see him in person when we have an opportunity to get better as a football team.”

On the timeline given the all virtual offseason:

“This is the second time I will have gone through this where I have not been able to work with our team until it is time for training camp so I am definitely looking forward to that opportunity. Our guys have been great about it and the attendance that we have had on our Zoom meetings has been good, very, very good. I am very pleased with that. It just feels like our guys are understanding of what it takes. The hardest part and the toughest part will be on the players coming back as far as their conditioning and preparation for training camp as far as preparation more so than the mental aspects of the game. That is the thing we will be concerned with when they come back. Obviously, when we get back we will do some conditioning just to see where our guys are. From there, we will go with our approach. We are prepared in terms of getting all the scheduling done and all the itineraries in place. I have the practice scripts ready to go and have given them to our coordinators. Special teams, offense, defense, we will have everything in place and we will just adapt them to what happens. There is a whole new set of protocols that the league is coming out with that we will have to follow, in fact we have a meeting this afternoon on it which I will be going over it with our support staff, personnel, trainers, video people, our equipment manager and my Director of Football Operations, Paul Kelly. We will go through those things, check those things and go through those boxes to see what we need to be ready for. We are still looking for guidance from the NFL and the NFLPA as we start preparing for this.”

On what he is listening for from his players and what his white players need to do to be allies internally and publicly:

“I think the biggest thing more so than anything else is that you want to make sure that all non-African American players and all nonblack players are listening to what is being said and they are listening to what the African American player is seeing and feeling. That way, you can have empathy and somewhat understand. You really can’t understand because you are not in their shoes but if you can feel their pain and listen to their pain, I think that helps you and shows them that you care about them and want to help. For everyone to come together, I think the change can be made. The things we do to go forward from here and where we are today can happen. The more people involved, the better off the opportunity is and the better the chances are to do something with some actionable change.”

On if the organization plans on bringing in a speaker to address the issues:

“No, we haven’t brought anyone in to address the issues. I feel very comfortable with the people we do have here on staff. I had an opportunity to talk to [Team Clinician] Dr. Monica Paige, who I really truly have appreciated in terms of our conversations. Our Team Chaplain Pastor Brett Fuller is an outstanding speaker. He spoke as well the other day on the team Zoom and just gave a great example of his own personal experiences. If you couldn’t hear what he was saying, if you couldn’t feel the pain that he had during his conversation, you might not have been paying attention. And, I mean, [Senior Director of Player Development] Malcolm Blacken and I have a lot of confidence in those folks, that we have the right people in place. Would I like to bring speakers in to speak to our guys eventually? Absolutely. As we get further and further into this, I most certainly will. Again, not just about football things but life in general because I think it’s important that we develop a well-rounded young man, football player. And again, it’s important that the right people touch these guys.”

On the challenges of completing the offseason program virtually:

“Well I think the biggest thing more so than anything else is we have nothing of our own to teach off of in terms of practice. That’s the hard part. We’ve had to… and again, kudos to the coaches for going out there and finding the clips, the cut ups that match what we’re installing in terms of the style of play whether it’s an offensive play or defensive play. Nate Kaczor our Special Teams Coordinator has a little bit of an advantage because a lot of his video that I watched is really us. It’s the players from last season. His scheme from last season. He’s been able to use those types of clips. I’ve watched [Offensive Coordinator] Scott Turner. A lot of his clips have been from when we were in Carolina. They have been able to take some of the plays this team ran last season and use them because they’re very similar in formation, in motion, blocking scheme, running play or passing play. Defensively, it’s a little bit difficult. It’s been a mix of several different teams when you watch the teaching tapes that our coaches are using. That’s probably the hardest thing, but kudos to those guys for coming up with different ways to get the point across to our guys. One of the hard things too is the virtual period has gone a lot longer than we had hoped for. We would have loved to be in phase 2 or phase 3 by now with the players on the field. Our coaches have come up with different ideas, different ways of doing things. There’s a game that you can play – a question and answer type game – that you can set up through this app. Our coaches have used that, jumped onto that and done very well with it. They do PowerPoints through this stuff where they can drop in information. They’ve got plays that have been drawn up, that our quality control coaches have been able to design and put them into the programs for our coaches to use during teaching. The hard part too is we’re getting a little bit repetitive, a little redundant. It’s been almost to a point where we’re going to oversaturate these guys. We have to be careful with that.”

On what position groups are the toughest to evaluate virtually:

“Well you hit the nail on the head right away. It’s obviously going to be left tackle. The other question for us is – Where is [OL] [Wes] Schweitzer? Where is [G] [Wes] Martin going to fit in terms of opportunity to be a starting guard? That’ll be a heck of a competition. Our tight end position, I like the guys that we have. I think we have good quality football players that can help us do what we want to do on the offensive side. Defensively, you would have loved to see how the linebackers have gone. Ryan Anderson is a guy that we obviously have to find a home for. We have to find how we can use Ryan with his particular skillset. And again, what’s our depth going to look like in the secondary. We’ve got some quality guys. Now, we just have to figure out the best way to use them. I want to see where our young receivers are. There is so much that has been written about Terry [McLaurin] and those young guys as to the success they had last year in terms of their development. So, where are they in that development. The running back situation obviously. I had an opportunity to look out the window and see Derrius Guice the other day working out in his rehab. It’s been kind of cool to watch him. I’m looking forward to seeing Adrian [Peterson] being young as ever. Really excited about the quarterback position. I think we’re going to have a heck of a battle. It’s going to be a very interesting thing to watch and obviously where Alex [Smith] is as well.”

On addressing the entire team for the first time virtually:

“Well what I was able to do is I had a PowerPoint and was able to use that and drop that in. That way I could make sure I touched all the points with the players in terms of what they can expect from us, what we expect from them. Try to make sure everybody understands what the vision is here and now going forward and that is to develop a sustainable winning culture. It’s something I’ve talked about and will continue to talk about, so I think it’s very important that everybody understands, everybody’s onboard, everybody buys into what the vision is as we go forward as a football team. I thought it went well. I’m not a big fan of it. I really didn’t like the fact that we did a Zoom conference twice – once with the players and once with the rest of the organization, players included to talk about the situation, the circumstances that have come up a little over two weeks ago. It’s really disappointing for me personally that that’s how I did it. I would have much rather been able to do it in person and see everybody and get a feel for the room. I just think it’s real important that you get a chance to see everybody, to talk to everybody face-to-face.”

On what it’s like being back at Redskins Park:

“Well no, not necessarily. I have gotten a lot more done since I’ve been back in the office, but the pace of things and working from home was very good because first of all, our IT guys did an outstanding job setting me up with everything I needed. I was able to work from there. It’s just that you’re focus is a little bit different at home because usually when we’re done with the virtual meetings, then I get the question or comment of ‘Hey I need you to do this.’ from the wife. Here I don’t have to worry about anything. Well, I got [Director of Football Operations] Paul Kelly screaming about the things he wants me to do, but that’s all oriented towards the football team. Whereas at home, because we moved as the quarantine started, so we’ve kind of had to put our house together in the last couple months without being able to have the extra help inside and everything like that. That’s kept us really busy, but being back in the office has given me the opportunity to dive into the things that I needed to in terms of finishing all the scripts, finishing all the itineraries, finishing all the scheduling and then also having Paul Kelly in the office next to me, having him be able to come over. We can talk about the things we need to set up next, the meetings we have to have. That’s the other thing is we’re able to have these meetings. We have to do the social distancing, so we use one of our big rooms and put different guys and talk a little bit louder. You have to because you have your mask on. But, we’ve been able to meet about these things, and we’ll have another one today at 1 o’clock as we discuss going forward with the new protocols.”

On if he feels extra motivation to speak out on Black Lives Matter as a minority head coach:

“Well when everything started a little over two weeks ago, I had a big concern that I didn’t want to come across as insincere because I know but I don’t. I don’t want to sit there and try to compare the things that I’ve gone through, the situations I’ve had growing up, situations I‘ve had in college, and then when I got in the NFL to what the black player, the African American player goes through. I really wanted to make sure I went through this in a very thoughtful manner. As I mentioned, I talked to a number of people and I wanted to make sure I got it right. I wanted to be very careful, I really did. At the same time, I also wanted to have action. I went through a very difficult situation in Carolina where we had this type of situation, and to me I felt a little rushed going through it. Here I felt that I wanted to make sure I put it into perspective the way it needed to be, that we had a plan of action, make sure that we listened to our employees, listen to our players, listen to our coaches, and have some actionable change, something that we can truly do. As I said, it was great to have my conversations with Mr. Snyder and have him be very supportive of this plan that we have. To the point where, like I said, he donated $250,000. I just think that was cool. I just wanted to make sure I’m where I need to be. I want to make sure that people understand that we, that I support the Black Lives Matter movement, that I want to listen to our players and listen to our employees and coaches and make sure we get this right. This was very important and because of how long the peaceful protests have gone on, real change is within our grasp. We’ve seen it with some of the governmental moves in cities like Minnesota. I just think that there is a chance to do good right now.”

On players taking a knee during the National Anthem:

“Well I’ve gone through that. I went through that in Carolina. As I said, I took the time to reread the Constitution of the United States, to reread the Bill of Rights. And when you do that and then when you read the Oath of Office, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United Sates, we should be supportive of people’s rights of free speech. That is what really helped me to understand the importance of that. When Eric Reid took his knee, he was just exercising his rights. I am going to be supportive. I know Mr. Snyder has told me, you have to communicate it, you have to make sure that the players understand that you understand them, that they know what you want. Because of that, that’s why I’m the one talking. I’m the one that’s out there, and so, again, I am supportive of our players and I want our players to understand that and we’ll go from there.”

On his thoughts on potentially playing the season with no fans:

“Well I do think that there is something to having fans, having their support. Again, as I said when I first got here, I remember when I played back in the day and just going into old RFK and feeling the energy level. When I first started as a coach, going into FedExField and feeling the energy there. You know it’s here and you know it’s capable of being part of what you need to be successful, so it’s going to be kind of strange if that’s what happens if we don’t have fans. I think the thing we as players and coaches have to do is find it within ourselves to, if at that point you don’t have the fans. My only big disappointment is I wish we had Philadelphia the first week. That way if they bring the fans back later, it would be kind of cool.”

On the possibility of bringing in WR Antonio Brown:

“For us to bring a veteran guy in a couple of positions, we have to see what we have in terms of our young guys first. I made the comment about our left tackle position. We have a group of young guys that we have to find out whether or not they have the ability to be football players. If you bring in a veteran right now, you are going to stunt the growth of someone young. We have to see and that is the beauty right now. We have some young guys at tackle that we really like. We have some young guys that have showed you potential over the last season and now into the offseason. You haven’t really had a chance to watch them. Those are a few of the situations where we have some young guys that we really want to see and check out. Cornerback is another one and I just say we have to see what we have before we make those decisions. I know who Antonio Brown is. I know he is a great player and an impact guy. He is also a veteran guy and we have some guys that we have to find out about. That is the approach. We want to see what we have. If we were able to go through OTA’s and mini-camp, we would’ve been able to judge that and say, ‘Hey, we need to get a guy at this position or we need a guy at that position.’ These guys aren’t really coming along how we want them to, lets pull the trigger and bring a guy into our organization. That is the hard part about not being able to see our guys. As I said, I went through it when I was first in Carolina, not knowing what we had and coming out of the lockout. We had to go sign players. We signed them without me knowing who they were. That really does make a difference. You want to know who your guys are and who they want to be. It will help you going forward because these are the guys that you put your energy towards as you progress as a football team.”

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