Coach Ron Rivera: 'Tired' of Washington Commanders being 'easy target,' but winning is the fix

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera called the organization an "easy target" to attack but said there's only one way to alter their reputation.

"Quite honestly I'm tired of it, I really am," Rivera said. "But the only way to fix it is winning, and that's the truth."

Since Washington hired Rivera after the 2019 season, he has had to contend with numerous non-football-related issues, from a name change to sexual harassment allegations by former employees that predated his regime. The NFL investigated the team's workplace culture for nearly a year, and Washington was fined $10 million after an oral report was given to commissioner Roger Goodell.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee then became involved in October amid calls for the NFL to release the findings of the investigation. There was a February roundtable session in which former employee Tiffani Johnston accused owner Dan Snyder of sexual harassment. The NFL announced it would investigate that claim.

Recently, Anheuser-Busch dropped its sponsorship with the franchise, although no reason was given.

All of this has led to a perception that Washington is a mess and a place players want to avoid, a notion Rivera strongly rebutted.

"Let's stop assuming, let's stop hearing stuff secondhand and throwing that out at us," he said.

The team was not active in free agency but did trade for quarterback Carson Wentz. His $28 million cap hit lessened what they could or wanted to do in the early stages of free agency. Another player, running back J.D. McKissic, opted to return after agreeing to terms with the Buffalo Bills.

Team president Jason Wright has turned over the business side in his 18 months on the job. Tanya Snyder became the co-CEO of the franchise along with her husband. Tanya represented Washington at the NFL owners meetings.

Rivera said he wants to get away from issues that don't involve "the football aspect of it" as he tries to rebuild the franchise.

"This is where we are today as a team, this is what we're trying to do as a team," he said. "I get it. People want to continue to pull you back into this, and we're trying to get away from it. That's what I'm trying to stress."

Rivera said the team's new name, announced in February, and look should help build momentum for change.

"We have a chance for a reboot," Rivera said. "If we can stop having to every time be the focal point of football... I respect what happened over here and I understand how serious it is, but my job is about football and we're trying to create a sustainable winning culture. We're serious about it."

Rivera told ESPN that the challenge of steering the negative attention away from the football side of the operation has been challenging. He pointed to the roundtable session being scheduled for Feb. 3 -- a day after the team unveiled its new name and logo.

"I have no issue," Rivera told ESPN. "I'm trying to do something that is beneficial for a lot of people. It's frustrating. Just before the name came out [on Feb. 2] I said to [his wife], 'Things have been awful quiet and we have a big announcement coming up, just watch, just keep your eye out.' Sure enough, lo and behold, right after the game all the goodwill and everything we tried to accomplish and it came out."

He said the situation in Washington is "a lot better than people are portraying it; I'll tell you that right now." On the football side, he pointed to a solid offensive line, the presence of a 1,000-yard running back in Antonio Gibson and a 1,000-yard receiver in Terry McLaurin as selling points -- and reasons for optimism. The Commanders still have a defense capable of success.

Washington has not had a winning season since 2016, although it won the NFC East in Rivera's first season with a 7-9 record. It finished 7-10 last year. But Rivera has pointed to this season as one in which the team can make a leap.

"I believe that; why shouldn't I?" he said of his reasons for optimism. "Why shouldn't I do the things I do to promote who we are? I do believe in us. I do believe where we are; I believe in this fan base. We have to win, and that's the truth of the matter."