As the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. That is true in all walks of life, including the professional sports world. And while the NFL may be a “what have you done for me lately” business, it is imperative to kick off a coaching tenure on a positive note, rather than playing from behind the entire way.
Ron Rivera is set to take over as the 30th head coach in franchise history when his squad presumably lines up against the Eagles on September 13th in Landover. With team workouts currently not an option, it is certainly too early to gauge how those two teams will match up in Week 1 - but if recent history is any indication, that debut could go either way.
It could end up like Mike Shanahan’s primetime victory in his 2010 debut against the rival Cowboys, or like the return of Joe Gibbs back in 2004 that saw Washington outlast Tampa Bay, and even like Steve Spurrier’s high-powered win over the Cardinals in 2002 - all first impressions that the burgundy and gold promptly celebrated with a “Victory Monday” and left the fanbase hopeful for a return to glory.
But the glass could end up looking half empty as well, as it has so many times before. Jay Gruden and Jim Zorn certainly didn’t inspire confidence with their initial performances in the district. Neither did Marty Schottenheimer, who lost the opener of his only season with the Redskins. You can go all the way back to Norv Turner, who had the difficult task of following the first run of legendary Coach Gibbs with the Redskins, and he did so by falling to the Seahawks in 1994.
What is also important to note is that the debut isn't the all-telling game for head coaches. Though it sets the tone, some have rebounded from poor starts, while others have struggled after solid beginnings. Spurrier's first win was followed by two disappointing years, while Joe Gibbs' 0-5 start in 1981 was soon forgotten when he held up the Lombardi Trophy three times.
In 2011, Rivera lost in his head coaching debut with the Panthers, but a lot has changed since then. He eventually figured things out in Carolina, amassing 76 wins over 9 successful seasons, including an appearance in Super Bowl 50. Rivera created a reputation that preceded his arrival in Ashburn, and since then it has been clear that it is a new era for the Redskins.
As for how that era begins? History tells us to buckle up.
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