John KeimESPN staff writer4 minutes of reading
Ashburn, Va. — “I put my foot in my mouth,” Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday when discussing Eric Bainemi’s intensity, insisting he didn’t want to portray his players as soft or a first-year offensive coordinator.
Rivera said what he told Bainemi on Tuesday was “not as clear as it should have been.”
Rivera said Tuesday that some players were concerned with Bieniemy’s coaching style, so he encouraged them to speak directly with their new coordinator. Rivera said the players came away “enlightened” after speaking with Bainemi.
“I hired Eric and I liked his overall message to the team his first day — we have to learn to be comfortable when you’re uncomfortable,” Rivera said Wednesday. “With guys on that side of the ball, they were uncomfortable. There’s been a lot of change, and the whole modus operandi has changed on the offensive side. Change is hard.
“Since having those conversations with Eric and the players, I’ve seen improvements. The last couple practices have probably been the best training camp ever. It shows how the team bought into that message and how he does things, how he wants to. Things done.”
Benemi was hired to replace longtime Kansas City assistant Scott Turner in an offense that had not ranked 20th in the NFL in scoring or yards since 2017.
Bieniemy’s intensity can be seen and heard daily on the practice field and, according to multiple sources, in the meeting rooms. His voice can be heard from afar on the field, yet he is as quick to give advice as he is to praise.
Rivera noted Wednesday that he doesn’t label his players as “soft.”
“It’s trying to understand more than anything else,” Rivera said. “Eric was an open door, and guys came in and talked to him, and they started seeing results. Guys weren’t fighting it anymore. They wanted to know why.”
Rivera said the narrative surrounding his comments could have been portrayed differently.
“The articles that were written yesterday — instead of what they said, the headlines could have been, ‘Players understand; players get it,'” Rivera said. “Guys are willing to talk, and Eric is very honest and very blunt and very up front, which is great because we know where he stands, and that’s the important thing.”
Rivera pointed out Tuesday that he and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio have head coaching experience that Benemi has never had. Bieniemy was a position coach in Minnesota and Kansas City and was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator for the past five seasons, helping them win two Super Bowls.
“I’m trying to convey that we all have our own way of doing things,” Rivera said Wednesday. “Neither is better than the other. I had Buddy Ryan ride me for two years [as a player in Chicago]. Mike Ditka was driving me to nine. It was the way they did things. Their approach is different from mine. We all have our own ways.
“As a position coach, yes, I was different. Every step you take is part of the evolution and growth of you as a head coach.”
Benemi was unconcerned by Rivera’s comments, saying Tuesday that he wasn’t going to change his style.
After practice Tuesday, Antonio Gibson said he was in the best shape of his four NFL seasons because of the intensity during practice — and the amount of plays they run.
Receiver Jahan Dodson said the players have to look at the big picture with Benemi.
“He coaches you hard because he believes in you. He wants you to succeed,” Dodson said. “Even when he talks to you about what you’ve done wrong, you must realize that he wants you not to make a fool of yourself on Sundays.”
When the commanders hired him, Rivera said that’s what he wanted from Bainemi. With a new franchise, and without winning seasons in his first three — including an NFC East title in his first year — Rivera will be under pressure to prepare this season, but he said Bieniemy’s arrival could help.
“I didn’t expect anything other than what we got,” Rivera said. “We’ve got a guy who’s true to his personality. He’s been everything people have told me he is. He’s going to hold people accountable. The last couple practices have all pointed to one thing, and that’s the growth of this team. His impact is felt by everybody.”