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WFT Coach Ron Rivera Had His Chance To Make The Right Statement And Blew It

Ron Rivera was brought in to fix the always-broken culture of the Washington Football Team. That could be an impossible job, like taking duct tape to a glass that has shattered into a million pieces.

So Rivera dumped quarterback Dwayne Haskins this week, the same week the team plays Philadelphia for the NFC East title. It was inevitable that this would be a major distraction, inevitable that Twitter and some TV talker would call it a racial move — black quarterback, short leash — inevitable that it would send some sort of strong message to Rivera’s own players.

That message is what Rivera was after. And that’s where he blew it. What message did he send? 

The talk is that he showed that he’s in charge. Ha! I don’t think so. Of course, the proof of any message is in the ear of the person receiving it. We’ll see how the Washington Football Team takes this. To me, Rivera blinked. 

He sold out the culture he was there to fix, gambled it away when he kept Haskins around after Strike Three. Then Haskins played poorly and lost a game that would have clinched the division title. Only THEN did Rivera pull the duct tape back out and get rid of Haskins.

Race didn’t have anything to do with this. Remember: Rivera once went to the Super Bowl with Cam Newton. It’s a little hard to believe he has a problem with black quarterbacks. Plus, Washington owner Daniel Snyder forced Haskins down the throats of the previous coaching staff in the first place, taking him in the first round of the draft when he wasn’t ready. That was about the optics of having a black quarterback in a predominantly black city.

Haskins was just some immature kid who came into a situation where he was supposed to be some sort of racial representation. A first-round quarterback is going to be the face of a franchise. His screwups get lots of attention. And Haskins wasn’t in any position to handle what he’d been thrown into.

So I get the race overtones here. But Haskins just isn’t good enough and isn’t grown up enough, and the team’s culture wasn’t in a strong enough place to absorb that.

Still, Rivera took a chance on a move that could be seen as race-based just days before the Big Game. It could have destroyed the culture.

Who knows? It may have.

Exactly why was Haskins, the first-round pick from two years ago, cut? That has never been clear. And if Rivera is sending a message to the team now, of all times, it has to be clear.

I know the narrative: Haskins was immature, not working hard enough. Earlier in the year, he disappeared mysteriously when he had been benched. He broke COVID protocols. And then with the playoff race at its hottest, pictures surfaced of him with dollar bills in a strip club, or birthday party, or wherever he was — without a mask. He violated more protocols.

But is that really why Rivera cut him? Because after all of those things, Rivera played him again. 

That was the key moment, the key decision. It’s such a hard one for a coach in any team sport to make. Maybe the hardest. Rivera is trying to fix a culture, and nothing can fix it faster than winning. Yet nothing can destroy it faster than letting a bad actor get away with his bad actions in front of the team.

And Haskins’ strike three came at the same time starting quarterback Alex Smith was hurt. Think of the spot Rivera was in: Haskins, the player, was his best chance to win that division and get into the playoffs and fix the culture in a hurry. But there was a longer play to be made here.

Rivera should have suspended Haskins for the rest of the year right after the Dollar-bill Dwayne incident. 

Instead, Rivera played Haskins, and Haskins threw two interceptions and missed an open receiver.

Then, Haskins was cut.

So no, Haskins wasn’t cut for being immature. He was cut for two interceptions and a missed open receiver.

To me, that’s the message the locker room got. Haskins screwed up and got away with it. Then he lost, and he’s gone. And all the Twitter chatter and race talk is surely heard in the locker room, too.

It’s really hard to know for sure what message the WFT players will end up taking. My guess is that they’ll lose Sunday and won’t go to the playoffs. But maybe they’ll just put their heads down and not worry about any of this. Maybe they’ll just play football.

Who knows? Maybe they do think Rivera put his foot down against people who aren’t buying into the culture. I don’t see it that way, but the message wasn’t meant for me. To me, the WFT looks like a broken glass that’s been duct-taped together.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

8 Comments

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  1. You’d be a psychologist’s dream on the…er…on the couch, Greg.
    You ask and answer your own questions…you take both sides of the Haskins argument…you explain why it’s not racism…and then you worry about the racism card…Coach Rivera had Cam, you say. Coach Rivera shoulda canned Haskins sooner, you opine…what message will the players think is being sent…and of course…what will twitter think. OMG.

    • Agreed 100%. I like Greg’s work but this was wishy washy as all get out. There wasn’t one ounce of racism in the decision to bench Haskins earlier this season and to cut him now. Also, the results, which depend so much on preparation and maturity especially at QB, are why players get cut every season in the NFL. So if Haskins had shown maturity and prepared for the Carolina game and looked like he actually gave a shit in between series’ the results may be have been better and would more than likely still be on the team. No one who works in the NFL can be the least bit racist, unless it is a black person being racist to white, Asian, Hispanic or Pacific Islanders.

  2. Haskins was never gonna be a solid QB with the Redskins … spelled R E D S K I N S … and its ok to use the name and write the name and speak it.

    i’m not sold on Rivera at all, but just one year before Cam took Rivera to the SB, Rivera disciplined Cam several times. one was very public.

    Rivera followed that model, but he also is and has been stuck with salary cap problems with a one leg guy and no good guy at QB. and the 3rd guy gotten broken physically – Kyle Allen.

    Haskins friend is Dan Snyder’s son from Bullis in Potomac MD. Haskins used that connection to party his way through the NFL for the shortest 1st round bust in history.

    skins suck, but Oh how sweet it would be for them to Win Sunday night with a one leg super man and a Cancer survivor on a Team with No Name. just like the song by America ‘horse with no name’ HTTR

  3. Haskins is a trash QB, plain and simple. This isn’t racism, it’s a business and Haskins is lowering the cost of the product with his play on the field and his immaturity off the field. He’s not half the QB JaMarcus Russell was…….and we know how that ended. I’m sick of everyone trying to justify his poor play. Just deal with the facts……He’s been in the organization 2 years now……he had the same opportunities to learn like every other QB in the NFL……he had a great veteran in front of him to listen to and learn from. His failures are on him and him alone. Stop with the “poor black QB didn’t get the same fair shake a white QB gets”. STFU.

  4. Dumb takes. This is honestly the dumbest article I’ve seen on outkick. There are several things at play. Rivera was doing what he thought gave his team the best chance to win. It didn’t work Sunday. There is also something Clay says quite about about athletes and second chances. If you can play a team will sign you. There is a point when your talent is no long worth the distraction. After seeing Haskins is still awful why keep him around? We also cannot know what might be going on in that locker room. I personally think it’s quite possible the locker room became toxic. This is a case of addition by subtraction.

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