Washington COs fire DL coach Sam Mills after ‘philosophy difference’

ASHBURN, Va. — Washington commanders fired defensive line coach Sam Mills on Tuesday, with coach Ron Rivera citing a “difference in philosophy.”

Jeff Zgonina, who played one season with Mills’ father in the NFL, will replace him. Zgonina had been Mills’ assistant for the past two seasons.

Rivera didn’t elaborate on what he meant by a philosophical difference, but said it was “just some observations. I just felt it was a change I had to make.”

Mills had been with Rivera since he was hired as Carolina’s head coach in 2011. Mills was an assistant defensive line coach until December 2018, when Rivera elevated him to the starring role after firing Brady Hoke. Mills then came to Washington after hiring Rivera in January 2020.

Mills’ father, who died in 2005, was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame last weekend.

Rivera said her history with the Mills family made the decision “very difficult.”

“I have known Sam for a long time and he is a very good football manager,” Rivera said. “I appreciate everything he’s done. He helped us win a division title the first year and things got tough last year, but there were some things I wanted to change.”

Washington’s defensive line underperformed last season amid questions about group chemistry and its willingness to play within the system. This led to friction in a unit used to a different style of play.

At times, Rivera questioned the level of football maturity of some band members and worried that it would lead to bouts of selfish play.

Last offseason, Washington released defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis and allowed Tim Settle to sign with Buffalo in free agency. Commanders drafted Phidarian Mathis in the second round.

“It’s sad,” Washington defensive tackle Jon Allen said. “Me and Coach Sam were getting along, we were really making progress as a defensive unit. This is the NFL; people have to remember it’s a great game but a terrible business.”

Allen called the timing “surprising”.

“One thing I learned in the NFL is that nothing is unusual, he said. “You should expect the unexpected and as soon as you are comfortable, the NFL will surprise you.

“But that’s not for me to worry about. My job is to play football. We have the utmost confidence in coach Rivera.”

Rivera broke the news to the players in a pre-training meeting. Brent Vieselmeyer, in his third year on the staff, will help with defensive ends. Former Washington winger Ryan Kerrigan, who mentored defensive line coaches and helped out as needed, will be present throughout camp.

Hall of Fame defensive end Warren Sapp also helped practice Tuesday. He had also worked with the defensive line for several days in the spring. Neither Sapp nor Kerrigan will take on a bigger role, Rivera said.

Zgonina was San Francisco’s defensive line coach in 2017 and 2018. After being drafted in the seventh round by Pittsburgh in 1993, Zgonina played 17 seasons with seven teams, winning a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams.

“It’s always difficult,” Zgonina said. “He’s a friend and always will be a friend,” he said of Mills. “I’ve known him most of his life – I’ve played with his dad. But I have a job to do and he had a job to do and we just have to keep moving forward.”

About Leslie Schwartz

Check Also

Saint Laurent’s Pop In restaurant, Philosophy’s Chinese capsule and Elite World add avatars – WWD

PARKING IN PARIS: To mark Paris Fashion Week, Saint Laurent will host an exclusive residency …