“There was little difference in philosophy,” he said, refusing to provide details. “[This was because of] something I noticed, and [I] I felt this…must be done.”
Jeff Zgonina, the team’s assistant defensive line coach since 2020, has been promoted to replace Mills.
In Mills’ two full seasons, the star-studded streak has not lived up to expectations. Injuries and indiscipline have damaged the unit, and early last season, Rivera criticized star-terminated Chase Young and Sweet Montez for not consistently playing their duties as the streak struggled to generate pressure and contain opposing midfielders.
Over the weekend, Rivera relieved Mills of practice so he could go to Canton, Ohio, for His father was honored posthumously in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. On Monday, Mills returned and trained his group. The next day, Rivera fired him before team practice at 9am.
Rivera said he did not consult the players before making the decision. He said it was “very difficult, very difficult” to dismiss Mills, who spent the first 15 years of his career with the Carolina Panthers and worked for the Carolina Rivera team from 2011 to 2019. Among Rivera’s first appointments with Washington In January 2020.
Shortly after Rivera was appointed, defense coordinator Jacques del Rio Changed the Washington chart from 3-4 to 4-3. This means that the defensive line switches techniques, using a more aggressive style on the field. Some players disagreed about which method was best and which caused friction, according to three people familiar with the situation.
Two people said the streak performed poorly in 2021, players remained divided, and Mills struggled to control the room. Tensions intensified in December. Two people said that in the second quarter of a blowout loss in Dallas, Mills asked Daron Payne to walk off the field for Tim Settle, but Payne refused. Later, on the sidelines, defensive tackle Jonathan Allen lashed out at Payne, stabbed Allen, and Allen swung at Payne – although Mills put his arm between them.
Early in the off season, when Rivera met with each of his coaches, he told Mills he needed more of the streak, one person said. Washington also changed its crew—Ioannidis and Settle out, Fedarian Mattis won in the second round—but by early August, that wasn’t enough. Rivera decided to make another change before his crucial third year.
After speaking with Mills, Rivera met Zgonina, then the line workers. After six years in Washington, Allen said “there [are] Very few things would surprise me,” but the timing of Mills’ shooting was one of them. He said he had “no idea” it was coming.
“At the end of the day, it’s sad,” Allen said. “Coach Sam and I were going really well. We were really making some progress as a defensive unit. It’s the NFL. People just have to remember it’s a great game but a terrible job.”
During training, Zgonina conducted defensive line exercises. Zgonina, 52, is a coach who is louder and more prominent than Mills. He could often be heard from a distance, and a day before at camp, while training, he was tossing passes for navigators to practice hitting when he accidentally made it too easy.
“It was a small throw,” he exclaimed, self-deprecating.
On the field on Tuesday, the defensive Hall of Fame assisted Warren Sapp and recently retired franchise icon Ryan Kerrigan assisted Zgonina. Rivera said the timing was coincidental – Kerrigan had been after coaches for a few weeks, and Sapp helped the team through off-season training – and that both former players would remain in their informal advisory roles. Brent Wesselmayer, assistant defensive linebacker/nickel coach, will assist the ends.
One of the biggest differences between Mills and Zgonina is that Mills stopped playing football after college and continued on Zgonina. In 1993, Zgonina left Purdue for the NFL and played for seven teams across 17 seasons, including fellow Carolina Mills’ father in 1995. Zgonina retired after the 2009 season, began his coaching career in 2013 and worked as a defensive line coach at San Francisco in 2017 and 2018. He was fired in January 2019 and sat out of season before returning to training in Washington.
During his introductory press conference, Zgonina appeared shocked — “I woke up this morning, and I had no idea,” he said — and downplayed the idea that playing in the NFL would help him. He said that the leaders’ scheme would not change, technologies would not change, and he would not.
“I came here to help win the championship, and that’s the main goal,” he said. “I don’t change anything. I am who I am. What I’ve seen in the last few weeks, the last two years, that’s what you’ll see.”
But Zgonina admitted it was hard to see Mills fired.
“It’s always difficult,” he said. “[Mills] he is a friend; He will always be a friend. I’ve known him almost his whole life because I played with his dad, so it’s tough. But also, I have work to do, as he had a job to do. We have to move forward.”
Nikki Gapvala and PJ Morales contributed to this report.
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