- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier is losing control of his team in his second season in the National Football League, raising the odds that he will depart the franchise at the season’s end.

The fanfare that accompanied Spurrier’s hiring in January 2002 has turned into widespread doubt. His celebrated offensive scheme, the “Fun ‘n’ Gun,” has struggled mightily as the Redskins have lost four straight games and fallen to a 3-5 record. He has clashed with assistant coaches, and his players have begun tuning him out.

The question now is whether Spurrier can show enough promise in the final eight games of the season to guarantee his return for the 2004 season, which would be the third in his five-year, $25 million contract.

Many in the organization wonder whether that is possible. Tensions at Redskin Park were high following Sunday’s poorly played 21-14 loss to the Cowboys at Dallas. But a source close to owner Dan Snyder said Mr. Snyder still believes Spurrier is a good coach who can turn things around.

Spurrier yesterday reiterated that his plan is to stay at least until the end of the 2004 season, by which point he wants to have shown enough improvement to justify fulfilling the remainder of his contract.

“I’m sticking on my three-year deal,” Spurrier said.

But things don’t look good.

The divide between Spurrier and his assistants and players illustrates just how fractured the Redskins have become in their fifth season under Mr. Snyder. The team has been plagued by turmoil in recent weeks, and there is a growing sense that each person is looking to save his own job.

The latest incident occurred yesterday. An ESPN reporter cited Redskins offensive coordinator Hue Jackson as saying Spurrier refused to change his offense despite the pleadings of assistant coaches.

Jackson denied the report, a team official said.

Just a day earlier, a recent dust-up between Spurrier and offensive line coach Kim Helton was reported by ESPN. Spurrier was said to have fired Helton, and Helton reportedly quit. Each denied it. Team sources said there was some kind of argument between the two, but it wasn’t clear how far it went.

Spurrier yesterday reiterated his intent not to fire any assistant coaches. The makeup of Spurrier’s staff is guaranteed by his contract, and no assistants can be fired without his approval.

“I’m determined not to [fire anyone],” Spurrier said. “There’s nothing wrong with these coaches. We need to get a little more aggressive up front. We’ve got to rush better and protect better and … coach better. We’re all trying to get a little better.”

Meanwhile, Spurrier’s relationship with his players is troubled. Two recent speeches by Spurrier, according to several players who spoke privately, raised the latest and most significant questions.

In one speech, Spurrier referred to the remainder of his contract as a key reason why he wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon. Although some believe Spurrier spoke in jest, players didn’t take it well.

In another speech, when players were expecting a positive message heading into the Dallas game, Spurrier delivered a deflating series of threats if they messed up.

This isn’t the first time Spurrier’s relationship with players has frayed. Last season, players grew frustrated with his play-calling and decision-making, but his adjustments and the team’s improvement by year’s end led many to believe he had adapted to the NFL. Now they’re doubly frustrated to be back in the same situation.

Defensive end Bruce Smith, asked if Spurrier has lost the team, declined to comment. He also declined to say whether Redskins coaches are being outmatched by their NFL counterparts.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Smith said. “Right now, I’m just trying to pick the pieces up and put them back together, hopefully get this thing headed back in the right direction.”

In perhaps the biggest indictment, some players said have they simply started tuning out Spurrier.

Spurrier, for his part, said he has not lost his players.

“I don’t feel that way,” Spurrier said. “I think the players are OK. It’s a natural tendency around here to blame the coaches whenever anything goes bad. I hope you guys have been watching the games like we have. Obviously, we need to coach better, and we’re trying to play better also.”

The most likely endgame for Spurrier is a buyout at the season’s end. He is owed $15 million for the 2004, 2005 and 2006 seasons, and it would be difficult for Mr. Snyder to fire Spurrier, pay that sum and hire another highly regarded coach.

The sides could agree to a reduced figure that would allow Spurrier to leave with three seasons remaining on his contract. The problem is that Spurrier can get the full amount by not walking away. Two years ago, Mr. Snyder wanted to negotiate a reduced buyout of coach Marty Schottenheimer, but Schottenheimer ended up getting the full $7.5 million he was guaranteed.

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