Commanders surprisingly fire DL coach Sam Mills, appoint Jeff Zgonina as replacement
By Jerry Trotta
The Washington Commanders‘ training camp bingo card has been all over the place. From the sudden retirement of Antonio Gandy-Golden after the former fourth-round pick converted from a receiver to tight end this offseason and undrafted linebacker Tre Walker following in those footsteps only to un-retire and rejoin the team the next day, it’s been a wild ride over the first two weeks in Ashburn.
At this point, fans should expect the unexpected and nothing hammered that notion home more than the Tuesday firing of defensive line coach Sam Mills III.
Ron Rivera referenced a “difference in philosophy” as the motivation behind the decision, which is the polite way of saying Mills wasn’t getting the job done. Entering a pivotal Year 3 at the helm, Rivera needs his team firing on all cylinders in 2022 and the defensive line has underachieved under Mills’ tutelage.
Rivera later confirmed Jeff Zgonina will replace Mills.
Zgonina previously served as Mills’ assistant and was made aware of the alterations early Tuesday morning before practice, so it seems as though the decision to can Mills, who was in his third season with the team, was made overnight.
The Commanders fired defensive line coach Sam Mills and replaced him with assistant Jeff Zgonina.
This isn’t Zgonina’s first rodeo running an NFL defensive line, which should ease the minds of unsettled Commanders fans. Back in 2017 and 2018, he was the 49ers’ defensive line coach under old friend Kyle Shanahan.
Zgonina has been with Washington since 2020 and had served as an assistant defensive line coach for three different teams over four years. He got his feet wet in coaching in 2013 with the Texans, where he worked closely with DL coach/assistant head coach Bill Kollar, who coached him as a player at Purdue.
From there, Zgonina filled the same role for the Giants in 2016 before moving out west to San Francisco to serve as one of Shanahan’s assistants.
The 52-year-old played 17 seasons in the NFL for seven different teams and defensive captain Jonathan Allen is eager for Zgonina to pass on what he learned as a player, telling reporters after practice Tuesday that, There’s so much that he’s learned over his 17 years. There’s so much he can teach us.”
The sudden change will come with an adjustment period, but it should instill optimism amongst fans after the DL’s struggles last season.
It sucks that Mills, who coached under Rivera in Carolina, was handed the pink slip, but we’re anxious to see how the DL looks under Zgonina.