Column: Can the Redskins have a quick turnaround like the 49ers?

Earlier this season, I told you the San Francisco 49ers are everything the Redskins should be and currently aren’t. While I won’t claim credit for inspiring the following, I’ll simply point out the ‘Skins are clearly using the NFC-champion Niners as the subject of their remodeling.

This time last year, the Niners were a 4-12 afterthought, counting down the days until they could find improvement through free agency and the NFL draft in which they held the second overall pick.

Now the 49ers are one win away from one of the unlikeliest championships in professional sports history. San Fran’s 13 regular season wins in 2019 is one more than they had over the previous three seasons combined, propelling them to the first-ever Super Bowl berth following four straight seasons with double digit losses.

The Redskins, fresh off a putrid 3-13 campaign, now find themselves in the same place as last year’s 49ers — right down to holding a proverbial lottery ticket in a draft expected to yield a transformative defensive player at No. 2 overall. Of course, Kyle Shanahan’s presence on the San Francisco sideline doesn’t hurt the parallel.

So naturally, the question here in D.C. is: Can the Redskins author a similar turnaround in 2020?

Crazier things have happened in this league, and frankly, the Redskins play in an NFC East division that’s far inferior to the 49ers’ NFC West, giving them an easier path out of mediocrity if hiring Ron Rivera as coach and making him the center of the football operation works out the way they plan.

Though it goes against conventional wisdom, the coach-focused approach worked for two playoff teams, the 49ers and Bills (the latter led by Rivera’s former Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott). It’s hard to give the Redskins organization (namely Dan Snyder) the benefit of the doubt — but anyone who’s seen Rivera in the NFL Films series “All or Nothing” last year has to feel good about the direction the ‘Skins are headed under his guidance.

Plus, for the first time in the Synder era, the front office appears to be organized in a way that’s actually conducive to winning.

It’s fair to question Rivera’s record, and I have. But he’s exactly what the Redskins need right now: A good coach who preaches accountability and establishes the kind of culture change we’ve spent years begging for. Finally, without being facetious, fans in D.C. are saying the word 49ers owner Jed York used while his team celebrated with the Halas Trophy no one thought they’d win.

“It started with Steve Young talking about getting everybody’s back, ” York said at the podium. “And if you have everybody’s back, you have a culture — you have a chance to be (in the Super Bowl), and that’s what it takes.”

As great as that sounds, the depth of despair in D.C. is far deeper than that of San Francisco’s. The Niners were, after all, just in the Super Bowl seven years ago, and were only one possession short of stunning the Baltimore Ravens in a comeback for the ages. Meanwhile, the Redskins are going on 29 years without a trip to a conference championship game, let alone a Super Bowl. Do I even need to list the comedy of errors from the last three decades?

But Redskins Park has something that’s been missing since the ‘Skins’ magical 2012 season that coincided with that last 49ers Super Bowl run: Hope.

Even with Bruce Allen’s poisonous presence, the Redskins were somewhat following San Francisco’s lead. The Niners have used three of their last four first-round draft picks on defensive line help, which the Redskins will have replicated assuming they select DeMatha graduate and Ohio State standout Chase Young with the second overall pick in this year’s draft. Given the pedigree of Rivera and new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, the ‘Skins defense could resemble the vaunted 49ers unit overnight.

Though big questions remain on offense, Rivera demonstrated with Cam Newton in Carolina he can get the most out of a young, inexperienced quarterback. A full offseason of work for Dwayne Haskins and a (hopefully) healthy Derrius Guice, along with an aggressive push to keep Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff on the offensive line should at least pull the Redskins offense out of the toilet.

The understated reality of the Redskins is that the cupboard has rarely been bare. This franchise has lost 193 games since Snyder bought the team in 1999 — nearly 10 per season — and an unwillingness to invest in top-level talent has never been the reason.

It’s because dysfunction and mismanagement have consistently undermined their own best laid plans, just like the York-led Niners not so long ago. If Snyder can follow York’s lead on a path completely out of the way of some good, likable football men, the Redskins have a chance to challenge the 49ers in the not-so-distant future.

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Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on

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