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Interview: Washington Football Coach Ron Rivera

ASHBURN, VA -- September 9th, 2020, Washington Football head coach Ron Rivera meets with the press after practice on Wednesday.

On the challenges of balancing his treatment and practice: “Well, hopefully the message had gotten across to them during training camp and all they’ve done is kind of just reiterated and regurgitated what we’ve tried to teach these guys and get these guys to understand. I got a chance to watch yesterday’s tape. It was good. But as I told them: ‘Good enough to win is good enough to get beat, so let’s be better than that today.’ I thought they had a good practice. I came in and practice had already started when I got back. But I got in and from the things I looked, I thought the tempo was what we’re looking for. I thought they practiced fast. The mistakes were limited compared to what we had during training camp. So, yeah, I think the guys are focusing in on what they need to do and how they need to do it, which I thought was important.” On having players return from injury: “I think it’s important because if you get guys back on the field that you guys have slated as starters or guys that were going to really help and impact, it’s important. The one thing you want to be able to do is make sure those guys are working, they’re getting their work done and they’re working with the guys they’re going to play with. That’s what is important because you want them all to have a feel for one another when they’re on the field.” On how QB Dwayne Haskins Jr. has picked up the new offense: “He has, and that’s one of the things we talked about. Again, I go back to my January conversations and from that point on. A lot of the things we talked about and just listening to [offensive coordinator] Scott [Turner] and [quarterbacks coach] Ken [Zampese] talk about his growth and his development as a quarterback, you feel pretty confident and comfortable that he’s getting it. Really, not everything should be on Dwayne. You’ve got to have players around you that know what they’re supposed to do, guys that are doing their jobs in terms of protections and blocking screens and guys that run routes. I’m pleased at his development and the development of the guys around him. That’s probably one of the big keys, too, that I don’t want people to forget. It’s not all about Dwayne, but it’s about other guys that he’s playing with on the field.” On head coaches having success in their second stints: “Yeah, it’s kind of a fact. If you go back there and there was a trick article about Andy Reid taking the job with Kansas City, the conversations he had and what was leading up to that direction was they found that coaches have had fairly good success their first time but didn’t go all the way seemed to come out and do things better. We’ve gone through it, we’ve made those mistakes, we know what we’re looking for, we know how we want to build our team, our organization. I think that’s really the whole approach is that—again, I don’t have all the answers. But, I’ve learned a lot. I like to believe the things that we’re trying to do and trying to implement, the way we’re trying to structure the organization as far as football’s concerned, how we run things on football, how we do things on football. Then the type of players we bring in, how we coach those players and what we expect of those players and then how we play. I think that’s the thing that we’re trying to do. When we talk about building a sustainable, winning culture, it’s not just about your character and your personality, but it’s about the way you do things, it’s about the way you play and the type of players you bring in and how you coach them.”

On adapting to a new team: “Well, one thing I learned when I was in Carolina is that you do have to adapt. You have to adapt to each person and each personality. I know a lot of coaches like to start out with: ‘We have a theme for the year.’ Whenever you have a theme for the year, that’s going to evolve as you go through it. It’s going to change, and you’ve got to change and evolve to your circumstances. That’s what I had done in the past. Based on I’m going to come out and say, ‘Let’s earn the right, let’s earn the right, let’s earn the right.’ Well, you can do that all the way through training camp and at the start of the season you’ve earned the right to be here. Now, what’s the next step? Well, ‘Hey, let’s go out and now let’s begin our journey. Let’s climb that mountain. Let’s get to the top. Let’s compete.’ Then, once you get almost there, we’re not finished: ‘Let’s continue, let’s continue, don’t look back. It’s a long way you’ve come.’ So, you really have to understand and have a feel, in my opinion, for where your team is and that’s how you adapt to them as well. I mean because again—why do things that they’re not going to be able to do? Let’s be realistic. That’s one of the things I learned from Mike Ditka. I go back to those days. Coach Ditka used to always tell us: ‘Hey, I would never ask you to do anything that I would never do.’ That’s a high standard because now we’re talking about a Hall of Famer. If he pushed us to reach that standard, we’re reaching the standard he believed it was. Well, my standard—I’ve played on a championship team. I know what it takes to get to the top. I’ve been very close two other times, but we didn’t get to the top. So, when it comes to it, when it comes to that peak, I’m going to draw on my experience as a player and see if that helps.” On the similarities between Haskins Jr. and QB Alex Smith: “I love their competitive spirit. I really do. Dwayne wants to be good and he’s showing me that he wants to be good. He’s done the things that we’ve talked about and he’s followed through. With Alex, you see the competitive spirit. You see the drive, you know what he’s focused on, you know what he wants and then to sit down and talk with him and hear him tell you exactly—to me that’s impressive. I think both of those young men epitomize that. I think both of them off the field, they both come across as the right type of young man you want out there in your community, the types of young men that can impact your community. That’s one thing that I’ve been very pleased to find out about both those guys, especially Dwayne because he’s so young.” On RB J.D. McKissic on top of the depth chart: “OK, just so everybody knows, that was an unofficial one. That was really one that we had talked with our media relations about because we had to pull one out. The running back spot is going to be by committee. If all of a sudden Scott decides to go with 12-personnel or 21-personnel, you’re going to have a different running back. You could have someone else in there instead. It could be any of those guys that’s on the 53. He calls whatever group he wants. That’s really going to be who the first running back will be. So, it could be any of those groups just so you guys know. J.D. we just happened to put on the chart first.” On if there are any positions that are easy to make inactive on game day: “Yeah, one of the things that helps us now is the fact that if you have eight offensive linemen up, you get to have an extra person for your 47. Now it becomes 48. So, not only will you be able to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to go with five wide receivers or three tight ends or three backs or five corners,’ you now know that you have that bonus player that you can elevate. Because you do that—if already have it planned out that you’re going to have to go with a lesser number one position—you can now pull up a guy from the practice squad as a special teams player, as an extra wide receiver, whatever you want at that point. There’s going to be some interesting moves come game day. Game day won’t be set until probably Saturday. So, one of the things I have to do we’ve talked about the last couple days as far as [special teams coordinator] Nate Kaczor, our special teams coach, talking about who he would like for the pop-up if we use one. ‘Do you want the guy that plays gunner or do you want the guy that is an extra returner or something else like that?’ So, you have some flexibility now.” On if they are trying to keep the offense a surprise: “No. Who we are—they’ll see very quickly what we’re going to do. To me, there really is no surprises. As a coach going into this, you’re game planning for somebody—especially the opener—you’re going to try to look at every possibility. We know who their quarterbacks are, we know who their backup quarterback is. They took him in the second round, we know he’s capable. So, we got into this thinking: ‘OK, we may have to prepare for a two-quarterback set where one’s going to split out and use him as a running back or use him as a receiver. They may hand the ball to him and also he might throw it.’ You know what I’m saying? We have to prepare for all those things. We saw what they did in the Super Bowl a couple years ago, so we know they’re not afraid to. Also [Eagles Head Coach] Doug [Pederson]’s history with the fourth-down situation. There’s a lot we have to prepare for. Hopefully, you hit it right and they do come out in one of those formations and things like that so you can say, ‘We were ready for it and we expected it.’” On what a divisional win to open the season would mean: “Well, I think it’s one of those things that you can build momentum off of. Remember, they’re the standard now. They won the division last year. They’ve been to the playoffs—what, is it three of the last four years? And a Super Bowl and won it? The thing that we have to do is understand that this, guys, is the measuring stick. You want to win your division; you’ve got it beat teams like this. For us, when I was in Carolina it was either Atlanta or New Orleans or Tampa Bay. Then you go out, and now you see in the NFC who you have to beat. Back then for us, it was Seattle. Seattle was that team. That’s kind of how you look at it. You look at, ‘I’ve got to win my division first. Then who is the gold standard for the conference?’ That’s the gold standard that you have to beat. If you can do that, now who’s the gold standard for the league? Well, for such a long time it’s been New Orleans and now Kansas City’s in that position. There’s so many measuring sticks. I think it’s one step at a time, so you’ve got to be realistic. To me, it starts with the division. If you can win all the games in your division, you give yourself a chance and then you go from there.” On learning from past coaches with similar diagnoses: “Yeah, I’ve actually had several coaches that have gone through this reach out to me. Obviously, [Bears defensive coordinator] Chuck Pagano, his was even tougher than mine. Mine was—I had a tough day yesterday. But from what I’ve read from Chuck and heard from Chuck, his was unbelievable. My hat’s off to him because, to do what he’s had to do and to get back to where he is, that’s a phenomenal story. There’s been other coaches. The Rams have a special teams coach that went through the same thing. His was documented. I had an opportunity to read it and I’ve talked with him. It’s been nice having coaches reach out like that. I’ve had some high school coaches that have reached out as well that have gone through the same thing. They talk about the one thing that kept them going was there drive and desire to get out in front of their players every day as much as they could. I’ll tell you what, it was pretty special to get out there today in front of the guys. I was a little late, but when you come out and the guys come up to you and they dab you up and they just want to let you know they’re thinking about you—that’s really cool.” On how he is maximizing his time: “Yes, there are and I was very fortunate, too, that I’ve got a group of coaches that I trust impeccably. [Defensive coordinator] Jack [Del Rio]’s done a great job for this, so have Scotty and Nate and some of the other coaches, some of the position coaches. [Assistant defensive backs coach] Richard Rodgers has been with me for a number of years is one of the guys out there now kind of assuming my role and cheerleading, leading the guys on, pushing them on like: ‘Hey, you know let’s go tempo. It’s important to play fast.’ That’s the thing I have I feel is comforting. And then, the other day, I grabbed a group of guys that are leadership guys, guys that have been here for a while or guys that are going to play impactful roles for our team. I got them together and I said, ‘Hey look, let’s take ownership. There are going to be times when I’m not going to make it. There are going to be times where I’m going to be low. Those are the times you guys have got to pick it up, and that’s all part of it. Now, you have to. You’ve got to do the things that are going to help you and your teammates go forward.’ It was a good conversation. I really appreciated the guys, too, for that.”

On how he has handled offseason issues:

“I think because of the people around me. I’ve got a good staff of coaches, as I said. My support staff are tremendous. I know you guys don’t think much of [Director of Communications] Sean [DeBarbieri], we’re trying to improve that. But, him and [Director of Football Operations] Paul Kelly—there’s a whole host of guys that have just been outstanding and have helped me out. Our guys with our player development—I think [Senior VP of Player Development] Doug [Williams] and [Senior Director of Player Development] Malcolm [Blacken] have truly helped and the other people on our support staff. Our video people with [Video Director Mike] Bracken and our strength and conditioning guys and the equipment. I’ll tell you another guy that’s been tremendous is [Head Athletic Trainer] Ryan Vermillion. Not only is he our head trainer, but he’s our Infectious Control Officer. Every now and then he’s my part-time chauffer and he takes me to the hospital in between breaks and stuff like that. When you have that type of people, you can relax and focus on yourself when it’s time to. But then when you’re back in the building and you’ve got that energy, you’ve got to do, do, do. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to map out when I can and when I can’t. But because I’ve got guys who I can trust, I just feel great. I really do. It’s a lesson I learned from John Madden. When you delegate the authority, you have to most certainly set the standard. These guys have gone above and beyond. It’s been good to see that.”

On if he is delegating more than he did in Carolina:

“Yes. That to me I think is one of the things that I’ve really come to appreciate when I tell these guys: ‘This is it. This is what you really need. This is how we need it done,’ and they go out and do it. When you go out and watch these guys take it above and beyond, that to me is when you really think guys are beginning to understand—not just for the coaches but for the players as well.”

On his relationship with Haskins Jr.:

“He’s always kind of been that way, he’s always been open. He’s always wanted to talk. He’s always wanted to reach out constantly. He’ll text me, he’ll call me. I’ll do the same. If something pops into my head, I’ll want to do it. I think it’s something that you learn, is that you have to have that relationship with your quarterback and your quarterbacks. I think Dwayne has really taken to that. He’s taken it to heart. Again, when he and I had that conversation, I told him: ‘This is what it’s about.’ One of the things I also did when I came in, when I was interviewing Kenny Zampese and Scott Turner and the other guys for those positions, one of the things I wanted them to do was: ‘Give me a plan. Tell me how you’re going to coach this young man.’ One of the things that they all said on their sheets was: ‘Develop a relationship with the quarterback. Develop a relationship with the quarterback.’ For me, I know that the sooner you get to have a feel for somebody, as soon as you can get somebody to trust you, there’s going to be a lot of good things that can happen. That’s what I’m trying to do and I’m trying to develop—not just with Dwayne, but with the rest of the guys.”

On his emotions during this season opener:

“Finally. I promise you that will be my first thought when that ball gets kicked. Finally, we’re playing football. I hope it continues. I really do. To me, when that happens that’s going to signal some normalcy in our lives and in my life, for sure. That’s what I’m looking forward to on opening day that we’ve gotten to something that we as coaches and athletes and our organization, fans and our fan base, can all kind of wrap our arms around and say, ‘Man, we at least have got some normalcy in a time that is crazy.’ Now we don’t have fans in the stands yet. But hopefully, hopefully somewhere along the lines we get the vaccine, people have learned and understand how to socially distance and we can bring people back in and we can enjoy again playing football in front of a crowd, in front of our fans. That to me will be really cool. Like I said, to me the big thing is finally just something a little normal.”

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