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Ron Rivera – ‘I put my foot in my mouth’ with Eric Bieniemy comments

ASHBURN, Va. — Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday that “I put my foot in my mouth” when discussing Eric Bieniemy’s intensity Tuesday, insisting he did not want to portray his players as soft or the first-year offensive coordinator as too demanding.

Rivera said he told Bieniemy on Tuesday that what he said “wasn’t as clear as it needed to be.”

Rivera said Tuesday that some players were concerned by Bieniemy’s coaching style, so he encouraged them to speak directly with their new coordinator. Rivera said players came away “enlightened” after talking to Bieniemy.

“I hired Eric, and I loved his overall message to the team his first day — that 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 entire way of doing things has changed on the offensive side. Change is hard.

“Since those conversations took place with Eric and the players, I’ve seen the improvements. The last couple practices have probably been the best of training camp. That displays how the team has embraced the message and how he does things and how he wants things done.”

The Commanders hired Bieniemy to replace Scott Turner this past offseason, hoping the longtime Kansas City Chiefs assistant would inject life into an offense that has not ranked higher than 20th in the NFL in scoring or yards per game 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 a distance on the field, although he’s as quick to praise as he is to admonish.

Rivera noted Wednesday that he did not mean to label his players as “soft” by pointing out their concerns about Bieniemy.

“It’s trying to understand more than anything else,” Rivera said. “Eric has an open door, and guys came in and talked to him, and they’re starting to see results. Guys aren’t fighting it now. They just wanted to know why.”

Rivera also said the narrative around his comments could have been portrayed differently.

“The articles written yesterday — the headlines could have been, ‘The players understand; the players are getting it,’ instead of what they said,” Rivera said. “Guys are willing to talk, and Eric is very honest and very blunt and very up-front, which is great because we all know where he stands, and that’s the important thing.”

Rivera also pointed out Tuesday that he and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio both have head-coaching experience that Bieniemy has not yet had. Bieniemy has been a position coach in Minnesota and Kansas City and was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator the past five seasons, helping them win two Super Bowls.

“I was just trying to convey that we all have our own way of doing things,” Rivera said Wednesday. “Neither one is better than the other. I had Buddy Ryan riding me for two years (as a player in Chicago). I had Mike Ditka riding me for nine. It’s the way they did things. Their approach is different than mine. We all have our own ways.

“As a position coach, yeah, I was different. Each step you take is part of the evolution and growth in you as a head coach.”

Bieniemy was nonplussed about Rivera’s comments, saying Tuesday that he wasn’t going to change his style.

After Tuesday’s practice, running back Antonio Gibson said he was in the best shape he’s been during his four NFL seasons because of the intensity during practice — and the volume of plays they run.

Receiver Jahan Dotson said players have to look at the bigger picture with Bieniemy.

“He’s coaching you hard because he believes in you. He wants you to succeed,” Dotson said. “You’ve got to realize that even when he’s getting on you about something you did wrong, he wants to make sure you get it right so on Sundays you don’t make a fool of yourself.”

That’s what Rivera said he wanted from Bieniemy when the Commanders hired him. With new ownership, and with no winning seasons in his first three — despite an NFC East title his first year — Rivera will be under pressure to produce this season, but he said Bieniemy’s arrival can help.

“I didn’t expect anything other than what we’ve got,” Rivera said. “We got a guy who is true to his personality. He’s been everything people told me who he is. He’s going to hold people accountable. The last couple practices all pointed to one thing, and that’s the growth of this team. His impact is being felt by everybody.”

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