Ron Rivera fires D-line coach Sam Mills III due to philosophical differences

Rivera fires D-line coach due to philosophical differences originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Training camp is usually a time for NFL coaches to tinker with their roster, but on Tuesday, Ron Rivera decided to shake up his own staff.

In a press conference, Rivera announced that he had fired defensive line coach Sam Mills III and replaced him with Jeff Zgonina, who was previously Mills III’s assistant. 

“Just a difference in philosophy for the most part,” Rivera said when asked for the reasoning behind the switch. “I felt like it was a change I needed to make.”

According to Zgonina, he was made aware of his upgraded role when he arrived at the club’s facility on Tuesday morning.

Zgonina has been with the organization since 2020 and previously spent time on the sidelines with the 49ers, the Giants and the Texans. He impressively logged 17 years as an NFL defensive tackle for seven different franchises.

“I like where we’re at in the room,” Zgonina said about his unit. “We’re not there yet but we’re getting closer and closer every day.”

In a scrum with the media, Jonathan Allen explained that Rivera informed the defensive line of the firing ahead of Tuesday’s training camp practice.

“You’ve got to learn to expect the unexpected and as soon as you get comfortable, the NFL will surprise you,” Allen said. “I think the timing was very surprising, but at the end of the day, it’s not my job to worry about that.”

Mills III was with Rivera during Rivera’s entire tenure with the Panthers, and Rivera brought him to Washington when he was hired in 2020. That closeness made an already tough call even harder.

“Very difficult,” Rivera said of the move. “I’ve known Sam a long time and he’s a very good football coach. I appreciate everything he’s done. He helped us win a division our first year and things got tough last year. There were some things that I wanted to change.”

Zgonina will be tasked with getting more out of a front that’s littered with reputable names but fell way short of lofty expectations in 2021. Allen, for one, is looking forward to the opportunity to work with his new boss.

“There’s so much that he’s learned over his 17 years,” Allen said. “There’s so much he can teach us.”

“It’s a great game but a terrible business,” Allen also added. “As a team, we have to focus on: keep moving forward.”

Hall of Famer Warren Sapp was back in Ashburn with the Commanders on Tuesday, yet Rivera remarked that his presence had nothing to do with Mills III’s exit and instead had long been planned.

Ryan Kerrigan, meanwhile, will continue to shadow as he figures out whether the coaching profession is something he wants to commit to after his recent retirement.

Washington’s opener with the Jaguars is in 33 days.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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