Former NFL wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. spent the first 13 seasons of his decorated professional career with the Carolina Panthers, with his final three campaigns under the leadership of head coach Ron Rivera. During those three years together, Smith saw Rivera inherit a two-win team and turn it into a playoff-level club.
However, Smith -- now an analyst for NFL Network -- is not sold on Rivera's big picture, 3-to-5 year plan of how to turn his new club, the Washington Football Team, into an annual contender.
"I don't know what planet y'all live on, but [three to five] years ain't gonna get you nothing," Smith said Thursday on 106.7 The Fan's B-Mitch & Finlay. "You ain't gonna make it to five."
Smith's opinion is not necessarily a reflection of his former coach, though. The ex-NFL wideout explained that his perspective on the structure and ins and outs of organizations has changed since he became an analyst -- that Washington's overall dysfunction might be too difficult for Rivera to fix.
"Coach Rivera is a really good coach. That doesn't always equal success," Smith said. "I don't know what's going on. I know Coach Rivera to his core -- great coach. But sometimes great coaches cannot resurrect you from the dead all the time. And I hate to say it this way, but the Washington Football Team, from the inside out, has a lot of turmoil, a lot of dysfunction and has made a lot of terrible picks."
Smith compared Rivera to Mike Holmgren as someone who struggled to replicate his success with multiple organizations. As a head coach, Holmgren led two different teams, the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, to the Super Bowl and even won a title with Green Bay in 1997.
Yet, when Holmgren was hired by the Cleveland Browns as a front-office executive, he failed to lead Cleveland to the playoffs and was fired three years later after just 14 wins over three seasons from 2010-2012. So even though Rivera had mostly success over his nine years with the Panthers, Smith does not believe that will necessarily equate to winning in Washington.
One of the most important factors in establishing sustained success in the NFL is having a franchise quarterback. In Carolina, Rivera had that with Cam Newton, the head coach's first-ever draft pick in 2011.
Yet in Washington, Rivera did not inherit a team with a quarterback of the future. After the Dwayne Haskins experiment failed, Rivera has gone down multiple avenues trying to find his future franchise quarterback. Nothing has worked thus far and it's been a constant carousel for Washington at the sport's most important position.
"When you use draft capital and it doesn't work out, like Dwayne Haskins, or some of these other guys. You bring in Ryan Fitzpatrick, he plays well, he hurts his hip. Now you got Taylor Heinicke, he's going to play good, he's not going to play good," Smith said.
While Heinicke has shown flashes at times since taking over for Fitzpatrick, he's reminded Smith, and many others, why he hasn't been able to last in the NFL before, too.
"I always evaluate backups this way: When I look at a backup, they can play good for a little bit," Smith said. "But at some point during the game, some point during the season, they will, they shall -- and you can book it -- do something that makes you say 'Damn, I see why he's a backup.'"
Yes, Heinicke is coming off a solid performance -- one of his best games of the season -- in Washington's win this past Sunday against the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But, Smith made it clear that Sunday's win means nothing if Washington is unable to build off of it.
"You have to add up the wins. The moral victories don't really add up to anything," Smith said. "Moral victories, if you have enough of them, they'll get you fired."
Barring something unforeseen, Rivera and his staff will have gone through two years in Washington without coming any closer to finding its franchise quarterback than when they arrived. That's a problem, according to Smith. And, if the team continues to lose, Smith doesn't think Rivera will be given the luxury to see through his big picture, three-to-five-year plan.
"I'm just telling you, I know that coaching staff," Smith said. "They got some good coaches over there, they got some okay coaches, they got some great coaches. But ultimately, Washington Football Team, y'all got to get your stuff together and you got to get it together quick. Because whether it's emails or players, y'all are underperforming and you're not gonna have four more years to figure it out."
Smith, who said he has a very upfront relationship with Rivera, believes his former coach can be the man to ultimately fix and change the direction of the Washington Football Team. Yet, Smith feels Rivera can't do it alone, and feels the rest of the organization, starting from the top, has a "heart issue."
"[There are] so many moving parts, it's beyond being a good person, a great guy. If the Washington Football Team is a person, Ron Rivera is part of it. He's a friend of the person," Smith said.
"The Washington Football team has a heart issue," Smith continued. "This team is not there because their coach is piss poor or not very good. Coach is good. It's not because some of the players aren't good. It's a heart issue. And, you got to clean it up from the inside out. Ron Rivera is not the problem."
Smith was blunt and honest when discussing the reality of where the Washington Football Team currently stands. The franchise has not been a consistent winner for nearly three decades. Smith made it clear that the fans deserve better, and that the team -- once considered one of the premier franchises in the NFL -- should not settle for mediocrity moving forward.
"You play in a market, you play in a division [where] mediocrity is not acceptable. ... At the end of the day, people don't care what you have going on," Smith said. "When you [strap on] that jersey and run out of that tunnel, they expect you to play at your best. The Washington fans, they want a winning team. They don't care who, what, where, when and how. They just expect, and when you walk out of that tunnel, you must deliver."