Washington Football Team Head Coach Ron Rivera was announced the NFC Coach of the Year and will be honored at the 51st annual NFL 101 Awards on March 6. (Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr.)By Daniel Kucin Jr.
Special to the AFRO
Washington Football Team Head Coach Ron Rivera won an NFC East Championship title and did so for the first time since 2015 while using four quarterbacks during the process amid the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 disrupted all offseason team activities, and Rivera could not utilize the preseason to evaluate talent in his first year at the helm.
The journey wasn’t easy for the former two-time NFL Coach of the Year, but he was recently honored for his endeavors in turning a team around that only won 17 games during the last three seasons and doing so while battling cancer.
Now, Rivera is cancer-free and was recently named the NFC Coach of the Year, and will be officially honored at the 51st annual NFL 101 Awards held on March 6.
“Thank you, everyone, for your prayers, letters, texts [and] notes of encouragement [and] support,” Rivera said on Twitter after officially announcing that he is cancer-free on Jan. 28. “It truly made a difference in my treatment & recovery!”
It marks the third time that Rivera has won this prestigious honor, accomplishing it twice coaching for the Carolina Panthers in 2013 and 2015.
After each NFL season, the civic organization called “The Committee of 101,” hosts the 101 awards as a result of Kansas City’s salute to professional football.
Each year, 101 members of the national media select the Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year in the American Football Conference and National Football Conference.
Rivera is the third Washington coach to win the award, joining two Burgundy and Gold legends, George Allen (1971 and 1976) and Joe Gibbs (1983).
Washington went 5-2 down the stretch near the end of the season, including defeating the Philadelphia Eagles on the road in the final game of the year with a playoff bid on the line. The Burgundy and Gold swept the Dallas Cowboys (2-0) this year as well.
“We all admire his toughness,” Washington Football Team defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said about Rivera’s character. “He’s laid out a great blueprint for us to follow. “His toughness and his determination, it really stands out.”
As a defensive-minded coach, Rivera shined under pressure in adjusting personnel changes after losing star safety Landon Collins to season-ending surgery. He plugged in seventh-round pick Kamren Curl into the lineup, who accounted for three interceptions last season.
Another player that Rivera provided an opportunity to flourish was safety Jeremy Reaves playing alongside Curl, who saw his journey start from the practice squad, to starting safety in the NFL Wild Card Playoffs against Tampa Bay, where he led the team in tackles.
That defense, which is fourth in the league, consisted of players Rivrera brought in, and they truly believed what he was all about, creating a unified group that refuses to give up.
“Probably just fighting,” Curl mentioned what he learned from Rivera. “He always talks about strength, 60 minutes in a game, and then you can see when he was fighting [cancer] and what he was going through during training camp.”
“He [Rivera] just never quit because that’s something hard to go through, especially when you’re trying to run a football team. So it’s just like keep fighting,” Carl continued. “We were down in those games, and we came back. I feel like the whole team embraced that from him.”
Rivera demanded accountability and wanted to enact a culture change coming into the role gracefully transitioning into a team with no name and no identity. Winning the division and putting together a hard-nosed squad isn’t enough for Rivera, though, as he sees more success coming shortly.
“I told the guys that we’re heading up, we’re on the way up,” Rivera said about Washington moving forward. “I promise you one thing, like I said, we’ll show up, and we’ll play hard.”