- - Sunday, January 5, 2020

If the hiring of Ron Rivera as the latest Washington Redskins head coach fails — in other words, is swallowed up by the franchise’s aura of self-destruction, like every other coaching hire in the last 20 years — it probably won’t be because of the actual football.

From the back of his baseball card, Rivera is a good coach. With the Carolina Panthers, he was 76-63-1 with four division titles and one Super Bowl (15-1 that year in the regular season).

He was voted NFL Coach of the Year twice. Carolina players have formed a line to testify to how much he was beloved and respected as their coach. And he reportedly got a strong recommendation by Redskins coaching icon Joe Gibbs.

Yes, Rivera was fired after the Panthers opened 5-7 this season, but good NFL coaches get fired all the time — sometimes, a coach’s voice just wears out over time with the same organization.

That firing hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm among Redskins fans following Rivera’s introductory press conference Thursday. His presence and words were strong enough for many fans to ignore the bumbling opening by owner Dan Snyder, who didn’t appear to know what day it was.

Thanksgiving. Halloween. Arbor Day — they all run together, you know?

“Everything we do is going to be about winning, OK?” Rivera declared. “We’re going to do things the right way, and that’s the only way we’re going to do them. Because if it doesn’t help us, we’re not doing it. That’s just as simple as it gets.”

We’ve heard all this before, in variations on a theme, so it is hard to believe that Redskins fans were willing to get sucked in one more time. But Rivera had them at hello.

“Things will begin and end with one simple principle — discipline,” he said. “I come from a military family where discipline isn’t taught, it’s lived. It’s expected from Day 1.”

As Ten Bears told The Outlaw Josey Wales, “There is iron in your words.” Rivera has a presence about him that no one since Marty Schottenheimer has had in that job. The only iron Steve Spurrier had was the one he held in his hands on the golf course. Gibbs is an outlier — he could have read the phone book in his return to the Redskins and won everyone over. Jim Zorn? Mr. Bean. Jay Gruden was the other brother.

It is not just the iron in Rivera’s words. It’s his likability — a quality Schottenheimer lacked.

“I’m going to do something where I try to create opportunities for every player to step up and be the leader at one time or the other,” Rivera said. “He doesn’t have to be one of the greatest players to play running back. He’s got to be a guy that’s willing to step up in front of his teammates and tell them, ‘Hey, let’s go, man. Let’s roll.’”

Hey, man, let’s go.

What could go wrong? Of course, you know it’s the owner. Snyder has been the virus for which there has been no cure — even in brief moments of success. Schottenheimer goes 8-3 with Tony Banks after a 0-5 start in 2001? Snyder fires him because the owner became a spectator. Shanahan wins the NFC East with Robert Griffin and a 10-6 record in 2012? The owner sends Griffin into Shanahan’s office to demand changes in the offense.

So limited success hasn’t stopped Dan Snyder. How can Rivera change that?

How about unprecedented success? How about winning 11 games and a home playoff win at Ghost Town Field within the first two seasons of his tenure?

How can Rivera survive the Snyder virus? By being so immediately successful — and popular — that Snyder is rendered powerless.

This was how the New York Yankees won four World Series titles in five years from 1996 to 2000 — manager Joe Torre was good at what he did that meddlesome owner George Steinbrenner was forced to keep his demons under wraps.

The Torre-Steinbrenner dynamic offers a template for how Rivera and Snyder could work.

I asked two reporters who covered those Yankees — ESPN Insider Buster Olney, author of “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty,” and New York Daily News baseball columnist Bill Madden, who wrote “Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball” — about the comparison. Both agreed it was apt.

“By the time the Yankees won the 2000 World Series, George had come to resent Torre and his fame explosion — in one poll, respondents voted Torre, among a list of nonpoliticians, as best suited to be president of the United States — and George believed Torre didn’t give him (George) enough credit,” Olney said.

“But by that time, George really couldn’t do anything about it, because Joe was Teflon in New York — and across the country for that matter — and so he never fired him,” Olney said. “When Joe departed, it was after the Steinbrenner children had assumed control of the team because George had started to really struggle with the effects of aging.”

“I think it’s a very similar situation,” Madden said. “Only difference is Rivera is fairly respected now. Joe was liked, but he didn’t have the resume that Rivera has. But if he (Rivera) wins, I think the same thing will probably happen. The only way to neutralize these owners is to win for them.

“Once Joe won in 1996 (Torre’s first season as Yankees manager, defeating the Atlanta Braves in six games in the World Series), he was in,” Madden said. “There was nothing that George could do, even if he disagreed with him. Torre had won for him. George had a bond at the beginning with Joe that he never had with any of his other managers. There wasn’t any push back from George when they lost in 1997 (in the American League Division Series to the Cleveland Indians in five games). But in later years that the Yankees suddenly became Joe Torre’s Yankees and Joe made no attempt to deny that ….it was only after Joe stopped winning, after 2001 (when the Yankees lost in seven games to the Arizona Diamondbacks), that George started sniping at him.”

Of course, this is a scenario that Redskins fans might sacrifice their first born for — Rivera is so successful right from the start that he becomes untouchable — and Snyder has to stand in the beer line at Ghost Town Field with the rest of you.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan podcast Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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