The Commanders have not yet fired their head coach, and plans do not appear in place for that to happen during the season. But the team is moving on from one of its coordinators. After a one-sided Thanksgiving loss in Dallas, Washington will fire DC Jack Del Rio, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports.
A former Jaguars and Raiders head coach, Del Rio had been with Washington throughout Ron Rivera‘s four-year tenure. But the veteran HC/assistant’s defense has struggled this season. Following the Cowboys’ 45-10 romp, the Commanders will make a significant change. Rivera will now call the Commanders’ defensive plays, per the Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala. The Commanders have since announced Del Rio’s ouster.
In addition to the Del Rio move, the Commanders are also firing defensive backs coach Brent Vieselmeyer, NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero tweets. Like Del Rio, Vieselmeyer had been on Washington’s defensive staff since 2020. He served as a Raiders assistant during Del Rio’s three-year Oakland tenure. Cristian Garcia will take over as Washington’s DBs coach, Jhabvala adds, with safeties coach Richard Rodgers assisting Rivera with game-planning.
Although Commanders ownership playing the lead role in the team trading top defensive ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young has factored into the team’s defensive unraveling, Del Rio’s unit was not thriving before the deadline deals. The Commanders allowed at least 33 points five times between Weeks 2-8, with both Young and Sweat being in the lineup in each of those contests. Following the Cowboys’ demolition, the Commanders rank last in points allowed, 29th in total defense and 30th in defensive DVOA.
Del Rio received this opportunity after not coaching for two years. The Raiders fired Del Rio following his third season, despite the team going 12-4 a year prior, to give Jon Gruden a 10-year contract. The 60-year-old coach did not have an NFL gig during the 2018 and ’19 seasons. His Washington tenure produced a mixed bag. The team ranked fourth in points allowed in 2020 and seventh in this area last season, though the 2021 campaign produced a 25th-place result. While this Commanders edition saw its edge-rushing muscle stripped away, ownership will sign off on Rivera making an in-season change.
Giving Rivera a green light to make these moves would point to ownership being committed to the veteran HC through season’s end. Rivera appears a likely chopping-block candidate in January, but Del Rio served as one of the Commanders’ interim HC options in the event Josh Harris axed Rivera during the season. OC Eric Bieniemy resides as an interim option as well, but the team would not have much in the way of defensive leadership in the wake of Friday morning’s dismissals. This appears likely to end with Rivera and potentially Bieniemy being gone as well, as Harris remodels the organization he recently acquired, but the fourth-year HC remains in place for now. A Harris statement indicates Rivera recommended the changes.
In the Rivera-Del Rio partnership’s first season, Washington won the NFC East — albeit with a 7-9 record — after forming a stacked defensive line by drafting Young second overall. Young paired with former first-rounders Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Ryan Kerrigan to form a strong pass rush. This unit helped cover for a QB situation that featured a struggling Dwayne Haskins and a limited Alex Smith, and Washington accounted itself well in a close wild-card loss to Tampa Bay. But the team is headed toward a fourth straight .500-or-worse season under Rivera. Del Rio’s role in that will cost him his job early.
The Del Rio-Rivera defense fared well despite Young barely playing in 2022, with the unit also withstanding the free agency miss on William Jackson, whom the team benched early last season and sent to the Steelers for a low-end return. This year brought a regression on most fronts, even with Young returning to full strength following his November 2021 knee injury. High-powered offenses like the Bills and Eagles ran out to 30-plus points against the Commanders, but the Bears and Broncos also combined for 73 points during the season’s first half. Although a six-turnover effort hamstrung the Commanders in the Giants rematch, Del Rio’s unit allowed rookie UDFA Tommy DeVito to throw three touchdown passes in New York’s two-score Week 11 win (as a two-score underdog).
A former linebacker, Del Rio has been an NFL staffer since 1997. Vieselmeyer has only served as an NFL coach under Del Rio. Primarily vacillating between the high school level and a Del Rio assistant (with a few college seasons mixed in), Vieselmeyer was on the Raiders’ staff throughout Del Rio’s three-year tenure. Washington hired him as its assistant secondary coach in 2020. Following Chris Harris‘ defection to the Titans this offseason, Vieselmeyer moved up to DBs coach. The Commanders exit Week 12 having allowed an NFL-most 49 pass plays of at least 20 yards, per ESPN.com’s John Keim. Washington has not intercepted a pass in six games.