Ron Rivera defends handling of Alex Smith after QB says Washington coaches were 'patronizing' with his return

Jack Baer
·3-min read

Alex Smith is officially retired, and the quarterback has something to say about how the Washington Football Team handled his improbable return to the field last season.

In a wide-reaching story from Sports Illustrated's Greg Bishop, the veteran quarterback said the Washington coaching staff handled his recovery in a perplexing manner last year. Specifically, he seemed to believe the coaching staff had unfounded concerns about his return to the field.

Alex Smith has complaints about Washington coaching staff

First, he took issue with his placement on the Physically Unable to Perform list despite doctors pronouncing him able to perform. Then, Smith claimed the coaches made him perform a series of grueling workouts with the apparent goal of seeing if they could break him.

Apparently, the Washington team doctor agreed with Smith's assessment:

[The coaches] seemed to be asking, Dr. Robin West says, “What can he withstand?”

“Are you sure you’re clearing him?” the coaches would ask. West would try and explain. The short answer: Yes. The disclaimer: She would assess his leg based on her informed medical opinion. “I got very little support,” she says. “He almost died. He almost lost his leg. Why would he want to?” Reasonable questions. “That’s not your decision,” West told them.

Smith reportedly said he found the coaching staff to be "patronizing," while his father Doug said the team "sabotaged" him for reasons that were unclear to the Smith family. On the coach's worries about his future in football, Smith said "it pissed me off."

FILE - Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith warms up before an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Philadelphia, in this Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, file photo. Washington’s biggest offseason need is to figure out its quarterback situation. Trade for DeShaun Watson? Sign Cam Newton? Roll with Alex Smith and Kyle Allen? Coach Ron Rivera says “nothing is off the table.” (AP Photo/Chris Szagola, File)
Alex Smith was frustrated with the Washington coaching staff during his comeback. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola, File)

Smith's wife said her husband was partially fueled by not giving the Washington coaches an "I-told-you-so moment." When Smith sustained an injury unrelated to the broken leg that derailed his career, he said the coaches deemed it a calf strain to imply the injury was related and placed him on injured reserve for the playoffs.

Obviously, we're all hearing one side of the story from a man who was clearly obsessed with playing football again. Smith still said that even if he played one more season, he knew he would never play in Washington again.

Ron Rivera: 'I was scared to death'

In a statement to Sports Illustrated, Washington head coach Ron Rivera didn't deny he was "scared to death" of putting Smith back on the field, but praised the quarterback's comeback:

“I was scared to death about putting [Alex] back out there and that is something I struggled with every day. It’s unfortunate that he feels we patronized him because I can tell you that was not our intention. At the end of the day, I commend Alex because he proved everyone wrong and exceeded any reasonable expectations that anyone had set for him. He not only made it back onto the field but led us to the playoffs. It was a truly remarkable feat.”

Smith had been out since Nov. 2018, when he sustained compound fractures of his tibia and fibula. The injury worsened due to necrotizing fasciitis — better known as flesh-eating bacteria — and reached the point that doctors considered amputating his leg.

After 17 surgeries and nearly two years of rehab, Smith returned to the field after Dwayne Haskins' exit from D.C. and an injury to Kyle Allen. He didn't blow the field away, but the achievement was enough to make him the obvious pick for NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

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