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Commanders coach Ron Rivera fires defensive line coach Sam Mills III, citing differences in philosophy

Washington had 47 sacks (sixth in the NFL) in Sam Mills’s first season as defensive line coach.John McDonnell/The Washington Post

ASHBURN, Va. — Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera fired defensive line coach Sam Mills III and promoted Jeff Zgonina from his role as defensive line assistant.

Rivera announced the change Tuesday. He hired Mills in January 2020 shortly after taking over in Washington, after Mills served on Rivera’s staff throughout his nine-year tenure as the Carolina Panthers coach.

Mills’s father, longtime Saints and Panthers linebacker Sam Mills, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, last weekend.

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

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Washington had 47 sacks (sixth in the NFL) and 78 tackles for loss (seventh) in 2020, Mills’s first season as defensive line coach.

Both numbers decreased substantially into 2021, and a defense that was viewed as a strength coming into the year finished eighth worst in the NFL with 434 points against and fourth worst with 4,333 passing yards allowed.

Rivera did not directly link his decision to last year’s performance.

“I just felt it was a change that I needed to make,” Rivera said. “Feeling there was a little bit of difference in the philosophy.”

Rivera also said Mills’s dismissal was not related to the presence of Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp or recently retired Washington defensive end Ryan Kerrigan at recent practices.

Zgonina will take charge of a defensive line for the second time in his career after previously doing so in San Francisco in 2017 and 2018.