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LOVERRO: Del Rio’s firing more than just fixing Commanders’ poor defensive play

Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was fired Friday, the day after the Washington Commanders lost 45-10 to the Dallas Cowboys on national television. 

The news was sort of gobbled up by the holiday weekend and I’m not sure it got the attention it deserved. After all, Del Rio was the most Washington coach in the history of the team. Think about it: his tenure was historic. 

Has there ever been a Washington football coach fined for his political comments?

A Washington coach in any sport, for that matter, fined for political comments?

A coach in any professional sport, anywhere, fined for making political comments? Fined $100,000 like Del Rio was?

Doubtful. I can’t be sure. It’s not the kind of thing the Elias Sports Bureau has in their extensive records. “We would not have that type of information,” they responded.

Jim Haslett was never fined for political comments. Neither was Mike Nolan, though he was given some ice cream by owner Dan Snyder for his defense. It wasn’t a gift.

Could you imagine Richie Petitbon telling the world, “I’m 100 percent for America, if you’re not you can kiss my A$$,” as Del Rio once declared on Twitter?

Petitbon’s version might have been, “Babe. Cool it.”

After an inconsistent four seasons on the job, including a disappointing 2023 season to date, with a 4-8 record that has seen Del Rio’s high-profile defense (six first-round picks) result in a bottom-feeding defense in nearly every measurable category, Del Rio, 60, a two-time NFL coach in Jacksonville and Oakland, was fired by Commanders coach Ron Rivera — at least we are being led to believe it was his decision. Defensive backs coach Brent Vieselmeyer was also let go.

“For whatever reason, it wasn’t coming together,” Rivera said. “Shaking it up now gives us an opportunity to do some things differently and play some guys differently and see what’s going on.”

The story touted by Ashburn is that this decision was made by Rivera — not new owner Josh Harris, who said: “I spoke to Coach Rivera, and he recommended that the team make changes at defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. I accepted those recommendations and want to thank Jack and Brent for their contributions to the Commanders.”

But let’s face it, this was an offering to the damaged fan base that Harris is trying to win back. 

There needed to be some sign that the new owners care that the product on the field is unacceptable. Firing Del Rio was the sacrifice that would be least disruptive to the rest of this sad season. Firing Rivera at this point would have opened up a larger set of problems more easily addressed once the season ends.

But I’m guessing it may have really hurt Del Rio to be fired. After all, we’ve been told he paid $100,000 to the team not to fire him in June 2022 when he was doing his Tucker Carlson imitation.

Del Rio, who was hired in January 2020 shortly after Rivera became Washington’s coach, was politically active on Twitter, including when he tweeted about the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the Capitol: “Would love to understand ‘the whole story’ about why the summer of riots, looting, burning and the destruction of personal property is never discussed but this is??? #CommonSense.”

He defended those comments when he met with reporters, and then opened up his brain for all to see when he called the Jan. 6 riot a “dustup.”

The fallout was severe, and that is saying something considering the franchise was going through multiple investigations and was the subject of a congressional hearing.

Virginia lawmakers who were in discussions with the team about a possible new stadium deal ran away as quickly as CeeDee Lamb outrunning the Washington defense.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson called for Del Rio to “resign or be terminated.”

“His comments could not have been more offensive and ignorant,” Johnson said. “The January 6th insurrection — an attempted coup — was far from a ‘dust-up’ …. It’s time for you to pack up.”

For a team already under fire, this would almost always result in termination. But remarkably, not this time. In what appeared to be an unprecedented set of developments for the NFL — and that’s saying something — Del Rio was not fired but fined.

Rivera said in a statement that Del Rio’s comments did not reflect the organization’s views and were “hurtful to our great community here in the DMV.”

“This morning I met with Coach Del Rio to express how disappointed I am in his comments on Wednesday,” Rivera said. “After reflecting on the situation and circumstances, I have decided to fine Coach Del Rio $100,000, which the team will donate to the United States Capitol Police Memorial Fund. I feel strongly that after our conversation this morning, he will have a greater understanding for the impact of his language.”

A spokesperson for the memorial fund said they don’t talk about specific donations, but it’s fair to assume that breaking that pledge simply wasn’t an option, even for a Snyder-owned team.

Del Rio, in one of his last flings on Twitter before closing his account, posted this apology. “I made comments earlier today in referencing the attack that took place on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. Referencing that situation as a dust-up was irresponsible and negligent and I am sorry. I stand by my comments condemning violence in communities across the country. I say that while also expressing my support as an American citizen for peaceful protest in our country. I have fully supported all peaceful protests in America.”

That had to have hurt. Del Rio must have really wanted to coach this team.

Now he is gone, and we can assume he won’t be getting the $100,000 back he paid to keep his job.

You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

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