Ron Rivera abruptly fires Commanders coach weeks before season

Ron Rivera abruptly fires Commanders coach weeks before season

The Washington Commanders fired defensive line coach Sam Mills, coach Ron Rivera announced on Tuesday.

Rivera cited a “difference of philosophy” for the move after “some observations,” which led the coach to determine a “change needed” to be made.

“It’s about this offseason and training camp,” said Rivera, who previously worked with Mills on the Carolina Panthers staff from 2011-18. Mills was hired as the Commanders’ defensive line coach in 2020 when Rivera took over in Washington.

The news followed reports of tension between Mills and the D-line in the offseason after the group underperformed in 2021.

Jeff Zgonina, an assistant defensive line coach, will replace Mills to lead the D-line. Brent Vieselmeyer, who is in his third year with the staff, will help with the defensive ends.

Rivera said his history with the Mills’ family made the decision “very difficult.”

“I’ve known Sam a long time and he’s a very good football coach,” Rivera said. “I appreciate everything he’s done. He helped us win a division title our first year and things got tough last year, but there were some things I felt I wanted to change.”

Head coach Ron Rivera of the Washington Football TeamSam Mills and Ron Rivera worked together dating back to their Carolina Panthers days.Getty Images

“It’s always hard,” said Zgonina, who played one NFL season with Mills’ father, who died in 2005 and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame this past weekend. “He is a friend and always will be a friend. I’ve known him almost his whole life — I played with his dad. But I have a job to do and he had a job to do and we just have to keep moving forward.”

Washington defensive tackle Jon Allen said the timing of Mills’ firing was “surprising” and “sad” when Rivera informed the team before practice on Tuesday.

“Me and Coach Sam were getting along well, we were really making some progress as a defensive unit. It’s the NFL; people have to remember it’s a great game but a terrible business.”

The Commanders host the Jaguars in Week 1.