ASHBURN, Va. — The Washington Commanders fired offensive coordinator Scott Turner on Tuesday after yet another disappointing season offensively.
Turner, who signed a three-year extension last offseason, had been with coach Ron Rivera for seven years, including the past three in Washington. He coached under Rivera for parts of four seasons with the Carolina Panthers as well.
The Commanders finished a third consecutive season with poor offensive rankings. They were 20th in total yards and 26th in points. Their best rankings in Turner’s three seasons were 23rd in points and 21st in yards — both occurring last season.
“Unfortunately, we did not live up to the expectations and standard that I expected to see from our offensive unit,” Rivera said in a statement. “I felt it was best for a fresh start at the coordinator position going into next year. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Scott and thanked him for his three years of service to our organization.”
Near the end, players and others in the organization grumbled about the inconsistency of Washington’s offensive philosophy. There appeared to be a divide between Rivera’s vision for what he wanted offensively — led by a power run game — and Turner’s vertical passing attack. During their season-finale news conference, Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew both emphasized the desire to be more of a physical running team.
“We need to control that tempo of the game,” Rivera said.
It didn’t help Washington’s offense that it lost rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. for the first four games of the season after he was shot twice in his right leg in late August. The Commanders had wanted to feature him in a power-based run game. Once he was lost, they focused more on trying to get the ball to their receivers — Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel — with strong-armed Carson Wentz. After scoring 55 points in their first two games, they scored a combined 47 in the next four.
Some players complained that it took too long in some games to get the ball to key playmakers such as McLaurin. Or, some players said, they’d get away from a formula that was working in games. Others said they liked the offense but wanted to see changes in the way it was taught. It also was considered a difficult offense for quarterbacks to learn, with perhaps not as much flexibility built in for them at the line of scrimmage.
There was concern throughout the year about the direction of the offense. One source said Rivera sat in on more offensive meetings this season to get a better feel for what was transpiring. One person whose team played Washington this season said the Commanders lacked an offensive identity and simply called a collection of plays, leading to some predictability.
Compounding the issue: Washington’s offensive line struggled, and it lacked stability at quarterback. In the past three years, eight quarterbacks started, including three this season — Wentz, Taylor Heinicke and rookie Sam Howell. Washington will seek to reinforce its line this offseason, possibly with at least two new starters.
Rivera also spoke to players during their exit meetings, with some saying they gave him their thoughts on the offense.
“I take into account everything that I get,” Rivera said, “not just from players but from coaches themselves, from what I look at, what I observe on the field, on the tape.”
Washington will interview outside candidates, but the Commanders do like the offensive system they have in place. One in-house candidate would be quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, who was a coordinator in 2016-17 with Cincinnati before being fired after two games in his second season.
Turner served as the quarterbacks coach for the last two seasons of Rivera’s tenure in Carolina. He served as their interim offensive coordinator for the final four games of the 2019 season before joining Rivera’s staff in Washington for 2020.
“We’ve had some moments where it’s been good. Obviously, some moments where it’s been bad,” Turner said last week. “For the most part I feel like I’ve done a pretty decent job of it. There’s sometimes where you’ve gone too far one way or the other for sure.”
Rivera fired his defensive line coach, Sam Mills III, in August; the line had its best collective season in 2022.