- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 23, 2020

ASHBURN — Ron Rivera ends each practice with a message to his team. 

On Sunday, the Washington coach briefly gathered his players and told them to “do the right thing, not the easy thing.” It was, in some ways, a continuation from the day before when Rivera went on an expletive-filled tirade over the team’s lack of urgency. Only this time, Rivera was pleased, encouraged by the effort he saw throughout the morning.

The two speeches were bookend examples of how the 58-year-old has gone about trying to implement his culture  — even as off-the-field challenges have tested him at every turn. The latest big challenge came Thursday, when Rivera decided it was time to disclose to his team that he had a treatable form of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. 

So, he did it in a way that was the most natural for him: He gave a speech.

Facing weeks of treatment, Rivera told the team he still planned to coach as long as he physically could, that defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio would absorb head coaching duties on a need-be basis and that he would still maintain a positive attitude. Days later, Rivera admitted it was a message he’d put some of the most thought of his career into. Rivera knew the phrasing and tone would be key. 

Rivera said that he “without a doubt” views his cancer diagnosis as a teachable moment. He was hired to build Washington into a contender, and in some strange way, this is part of the team’s growth, Rivera said. 

“We’ll find out a lot more about ourselves,” he said.

Rivera knows there will be days when he’ll be too physically weak to coach, when he’ll have to step aside. While he has said the cancer was caught early and is treatable, Rivera will undergo 35 treatment sessions — five days per week for seven weeks. He said he’s not being “rosy” about his situation, revealing a doctor told him that at one point, Rivera will have to become “selfish.” 

Rivera, though, said he accepts the challenge. That’s no different from how Rivera has approached his career, including the last eight months on the job. Rivera’s duties have expanded beyond the typical coach. He’s been the face for the franchise, becoming the prominent voice who has responded to the team’s name change and sexual harassment allegations in the team’s workplace. He even crafted Washington’s response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed by the players. 

“Coach Rivera always says that he has broad shoulders and he can take it,” center Chase Roullier said. “Whether it’s talking about all these non-football things going on, on a daily basis, or whether that’s things within the team, he’s our leader and he’s our head. He’s willing to take on all those responsibilities and allow us to focus on what’s important as players, and that’s preparing and playing the game of football.”

“Whenever someone can be vulnerable with you, that really shows a lot about their mental toughness because that’s not an easy thing to do,” defensive end Jonathan Allen said. 

Rivera’s diagnosis hasn’t stopped the coach from demanding Washington play up to his standards. On Saturday, he specifically called out guard Wes Martin for not taking advantage of getting an opportunity to play with the starters. Rivera later said Martin was the first to come to mind, and in reality, he could have used any of the team’s younger players. 

The message appeared to get through. Over the course of Washington’s two-hour, sweat-filled practice Sunday, players bashed into each other. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins had his sharpest day yet, establishing chemistry with tight end Logan Thomas for two red-zone touchdowns. Wide receivers like Terry McLaurin and Steven Sims battled a secondary flying off the snap. 

Afterward, Rivera said he was impressed, in part, because it was the hottest day yet of training camp. He noted the heat didn’t cause players to lose steam. 

“We’re starting to understand and get a feel for what’s needed and expected,” Rivera said. “I thought they came through for the most part.”

He then took a slight beat. 

“Now, we’ll take a look at the tape and determine who I’ve got to yell at later today,” he said.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide