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Commanders fire Ron Rivera, begin rebuild under new owner Josh Harris

Josh Harris speaks at a news conference after the Commanders fired Ron Rivera Monday morning, beginning a period of offseason change for the team, which finished 4-13 in 2023. (Craig Hudson/For the Washington Post)
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The Washington Commanders wasted no time starting anew.

On Monday morning, a day after his team fell to the Dallas Cowboys to finish the season 4-13, Commanders owner Josh Harris fired coach Ron Rivera and announced he had enlisted former Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers and former Minnesota Vikings GM Rick Spielman to advise in searches for a new head of football operations and coach.

The moves end Rivera’s four-year run and begin a series of changes that will overhaul the franchise in Harris’s vision.

“It’s important that I do this personally and get this right and then we bring in the right leadership,” Harris said.

Shortly after Washington announced Rivera’s exit, it submitted a flurry of requests to other NFL teams for permission to interview at least eight executive and coach candidates, with more likely to follow.

Commanders GM Martin Mayhew and executive vice president of football/player personnel Marty Hurney will stay on through the search processes — both are under contract for another year — but the team didn’t make promises beyond that.

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Harris said he plans to run a “thorough but rapid” search, with the hope of having the top executive in place soon so that person can have input in hiring the coach and the rest of the front office. Teams can begin to hold virtual and in-person interviews for primary executive roles, but they must wait until after the divisional round of the playoffs to speak with coaching candidates in person. They can talk virtually before then.

Rivera was both the coach and the top football executive, but Harris envisions the roles as separate jobs.

“My desire is to have the head of football operations in place and then to listen very hard to what that person wants to do,” Harris said. “... I want to get the best talent here and then hold them accountable and work with them. So what that person wants to do or not do is really important in our search process.”

Harris’s search team will include Myers, Spielman and Commanders limited partners Mitchell Rales, Magic Johnson and David Blitzer.

Myers, an NBA analyst for ESPN, was an executive with the Warriors for 12 seasons (2011 to 2023) and helped the team win four NBA championships. He was named the league’s executive of the year twice for his decisions, which included the hiring of Coach Steve Kerr. He also spent 14 years as a sports agent.

“He knows how to identify talent; he knows how to build winning franchises, winning cultures,” Harris said. “... He’s not been around football, but he’s an amazing sports executive, and I’m really happy to have him helping. He’ll be around as an adviser to me.”

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Spielman spent more than three decades in NFL personnel. Harris said Spielman would work with the team through the hiring process and he was “not sure” about his role after that.

The group’s interview requests Monday included several executives (San Francisco 49ers assistant GM Adam Peters, Chicago Bears assistant GM Ian Cunningham, Cleveland Browns assistant GM Glenn Cook, Philadelphia Eagles assistant GM Alec Halaby and Kansas City Chiefs assistant GM Mike Borgonzi) and coaches (Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, Houston Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik and Baltimore Ravens assistant head coach/defensive line coach Anthony Weaver), according to multiple people with knowledge of the requests.

Harris is no stranger to sports rebuilds, having revamped the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils in recent years. And though football operations are the priority, he could also alter the business side this year. He is expected to continue to improve dilapidated FedEx Field as the team makes plans for a new stadium.

“There’s a lot of ingredients here for success,” Harris said. “... We will recruit amazing individuals on the coaching side and on the front-office side. But I’m pretty optimistic that we’re going to be able to move the ball here very quickly.”

Former Washington owner Daniel Snyder hired Rivera four years ago. Rivera had spent the previous nine seasons coaching the Carolina Panthers and was widely respected as a coach and leader, and the chance to control Washington’s football operations was a selling point. So, too, was the chance to fix the team’s culture. Rivera soon became the primary voice for the team as it navigated two name changes, multiple NFL- and federal government-led investigations of its workplace and operations and probes by three attorneys general.

“That was a lot,” Rivera said last week. “A lot more than I had anticipated there.”

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In 2020, his first season in Washington, Rivera was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemotherapy and proton radiation while continuing to coach. He didn’t miss a game. In 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration searched the team’s headquarters as part of an investigation of the head athletic trainer, whom Rivera had hired, for illegally providing controlled substances to players. In 2022, rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. was shot twice during an attempted robbery in D.C. just before the start of the season. Just a few months later, Snyder announced his intent to explore a sale of the team, setting in motion the process that led to Harris’s $6.05 billion purchase.

“[I] was trying to keep the focus on the players,” Rivera said. “... This is a player’s game. You don’t have the players, you don’t get the players doing the things that they’re capable of, you’re going to struggle. And that’s, I think, part of what we’ve had to deal with.”

Rivera’s ability to shield his team from the turmoil was no small feat, and players often said it was among his greatest strengths.

On the field, the Commanders went 26-40-1 over Rivera’s four years, winning their division once and finishing last twice. They churned through eight starting quarterbacks, and only one player (defensive end Chase Young) the team drafted or signed during Rivera’s tenure earned a Pro Bowl nod or an all-pro selection.

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Harris’s purchase of the team in July incited the return of thousands of fans to training camp practices. But a 2-0 start quickly spiraled, thanks to a leaky defense and stagnant offense. Quarterback Sam Howell, who impressed early in the season, struggled in the second half. Though the season fell apart quickly, Harris didn’t believe an in-season coaching change would produce the results the team wanted.

Shortly after he was fired, Rivera issued a lengthy statement thanking the team’s fans and new owners and lauding the players for their “professionalism, toughness, work ethic and dedication to the game.”

“I believe we began to change the culture of this organization in meaningful ways,” he said.

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Rivera addressed his players one last time Monday morning to thank them and share his appreciation of their efforts. Then Harris spoke to the group and told them the onus was on him to make the right decisions.

“It’s very important to be having a dialogue with the players, listening to some of the leadership, listening to how they feel about things,” Harris said.

For the first time in decades, Washington may be regarded as one of the top landing spots for prospective coaches and executives — if not the top landing spot. The team needs a full rebuild, but it is projected to have the most salary cap space in the NFL in 2024 and will have five draft picks in the first three rounds, including the No. 2 selection.

More significant: It has an ownership group willing to spend on and delegate to top talent.

“It’s hard to win four games,” Harris said. “From my point of view, we are coming out of this poised for a great future.”