If a college offered a How to Build a D.C. Team Into a Champion class, Mike Rizzo would be an apt choice to lead the course.
Rizzo has been a top executive with the Nationals since 2009, when he assumed the role of general manager. He's overseen Washington's rise from NL East fodder to NL East contender to, of course, now World Series winners.
The process was arduous, but Rizzo was steadfast in his approach through it all and was committed to sticking to his values and his roster. He was the perfect leader to help elevate the Nats to the top of baseball, and he's also the perfect person to give advice to Ron Rivera and the Redskins as they try to make the same climb in football.
So, the Redskins Talk podcast searched for that kind of advice on Wednesday when Rizzo sat down with them in Miami at Super Bowl LIV.
Rizzo, who's actually already fond of Rivera since Rivera played for Rizzo's beloved Bears, looked back on the early days of his rebuild with the Nationals, stressing the importance of having a vision.
"It's very difficult. It's more difficult towards the fan base," Rizzo explained. "With them, we were honest and up front and kind of mapped out what our blueprint was for how we were going to develop this thing... From that day on we had a blueprint and a plan of how to do this. When I took over as GM in 2009, we started implementing the plan."
It seems as if Rivera is being allowed to begin his tenure in a similar way. The two-time Coach of the Year is the key component in what Dan Snyder has called a "coach-centric" structure, and so far, Rivera has brought in plenty of new figures at all levels of the organization. He'll likely do the same when free agency and the draft come and go.
That's just the beginning, obviously, which Rizzo discussed. It's rare for a franchise to flip its fortunes in a flash, especially when they're in bad as shape as the Curly Ws once were or the Burgundy and Gold currently is. But growth should happen, and that growth will hopefully lead to an eventual explosion.
"We saw small increments of improvement," Rizzo told Redskins Talk. "We went from 59 wins to 69 wins. From 69 wins to 80 wins. And then we went on our big runs."
Rivera is taking over a group that just went 3-13, and while there's plenty of optimism for what he can do, the progress may initially be slow. Six victories in 2020, for example, won't result in a playoff berth but would represent quite a jump. Yet even with what could be an uninspiring record in Rivera's debut season, there may be some vital developing going on.
"It happens most powerfully in places that nobody sees," Rizzo said. "It's down at the grassroots."
In the end, Rizzo has emerged from the Nationals' ascension understanding that making a team into a legitimate force is insanely difficult. However, the task becomes more doable if there's patience and unity between the people calling the shots.
Essentially, in that hypothetical How to Build a D.C. Team Into a Champion class, the following quote from Rizzo would be the principle takeaway.
"Sometimes you have hiccups and take steps sideways or even take steps backwards," he said. "Ownership better be on board, you better have their support, they better have the blueprint in front of them and believe in the dream. And you better have the personnel in the front office and the decision-makers to make sometimes scary decisions. You can't be afraid to make big decisions and bold decisions to accomplish big things."
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