- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2019

ASHBURN — At the close of every NFL season, players pack their belongings in large garbage bags, chat with reporters and exchange goodbyes. But for the Washington Redskins, Monday was as much about a new beginning as it was an ending to a disappointing year.

As head coaching candidate Ron Rivera visited Washington on Monday, players weighed in on the old-school NFL veteran — speaking highly of the former Carolina Panthers coach who is now seen as the front-runner for the job in Ashburn.

“I met Ron in the pre-draft,” quarterback Dwayne Haskins said. “He sat me down in one of my visits. He is a good dude. I have heard a lot of good things about him.”

So who is the man favored to be the next Redskins‘ coach?

Rivera coached the Panthers from 2011 until earlier this month, when he was fired two days after the Panthers lost to the Redskins in Week 13.

Rivera would replace Jay Gruden, whom the Redskins fired in the middle of his sixth year after the team started the season 0-5. Interim coach Bill Callahan was not available to reporters Monday, and it’s unclear whether he’ll return to his previous role as the offensive line coach.

A former linebacker who won Super Bowl XX with the 1985 Chicago Bears, Rivera held defensive coordinator roles with the Bears and Chargers before taking the head job in Carolina.

In nine seasons with the Panthers, Rivera compiled a 76-63-1 record and was named the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year in 2013 and 2015. Carolina plowed through the league in 2015 and finished 15-1, but lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl.

Despite the success, which also included four postseason trips and three division titles, Rivera’s Panthers never had back-to-back winning seasons.

But his players widely respected him. Panthers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy — who only played for Rivera this season — told reporters in Carolina that Redskins players should know “the greatest thing in their careers is about to happen” if Rivera is hired.

One of the few Redskins players with connections to Rivera is cornerback Josh Norman, who played four seasons in Carolina. Norman felt hiring Rivera would trigger a “day-and-night” culture change.

“Everything as you see it today would be different,” he said. “I’ll say that.”

Norman declined to say whether he’s spoken with Rivera in recent days.

Adrian Peterson added that former Vikings teammate Captain Munnerlyn played for Rivera in Carolina and came away with rave reviews.

“It all comes off of experience,” Peterson said. “(Munnerlyn is) a guy that is one of my close friends so he wouldn’t lead me (astray) with what comes out of his mouth. I don’t know what move they’re going to make, but I know that he’s a heck of a coach.”

Though a contract hasn’t been put in writing yet, the coaching search came fast on the heels of team president Bruce Allen’s dismissal Monday morning. Allen ran football operations for the 10 years he spent with the organization, first as general manager, then with the title of president.

Reports said Washington was also interested in former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. Another supposed candidate was former college coach Urban Meyer, who could still be in play to join the front office. Meyer watched the Redskins‘ last home game of the season from Snyder’s suite.

Even if Rivera was the only candidate to interview, the Redskins still will have satisfied the league’s Rooney Rule about interviewing minority candidates because Rivera is Hispanic — his mother is from Mexico and his father is Puerto Rican.

When the Panthers fired Rivera, owner David Tepper pointedly said he wanted the team’s next coach to be analytically driven. While Rivera tried to embrace Tepper’s wishes at times, Rivera has spoken out against the use of analytics in the past and opposed the NFL’s expanded use of video on the sidelines. “I want to get beat on the field. I don’t want to get beat because someone used a tool or technology — that is not coaching at that point,” he told The Ringer in 2016.

That said, Rivera was dubbed “Riverboat Ron” with Carolina for how aggressively he would “gamble” in fourth-down situations. Rivera used quarterback Cam Newton and an effective running game to take chances on fourth down.

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