- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2000

It was 3 a.m. Washington Redskins interim coach Terry Robiskie sat alone watching game films of Sunday's 32-13 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He expected to see a passionate epic. Instead, it was a horror flick.

"Not too many people want to watch it with me," Robiskie said. "It's hard to sit and watch it, to see little opportunities we missed. If I sat down and told guys a million things and all of a sudden two things happened that we did not discuss, then I'd understand it. But when I say 1 million things and all 1 million happen and we don't react to it, that's the toughest thing."

Frame by frame whistled by as Robiskie sat in the darkness wondering why players who promised renewed vigor following coach Norv Turner's firing on Dec. 4 instead played poorly. What happened to the team that wanted to give Robiskie a chance of returning in 2001? The worst effort of the season didn't inspire confidence.

Meanwhile, former UCLA coach Terry Donahue is reportedly the latest possible candidate to back away. Donahue told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that he doubted the Redskins would ask permission from the San Francisco 49ers to interview the assistant general manager, who is expected to succeed general manager Bill Walsh in April. NFL sources said Redskins "search committee chairman" Pepper Rodgers spoke with Donahue over his possible interest in the past week. Donahue wouldn't rule the Redskins out, but felt his coaching career was over.

"People who coach always have a fondness and love of coaching," Donahue said. "But you've got to remind yourself every once in awhile of why you retired from coaching."

Robiskie remains blind to the future during the search. He's simply focusing on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday and the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 24 before worrying whether his three-week trial is successful.

"Some people wanted to speculate if we win three I get the job, if we lose three I don't get the job," he said. "My whole thing is simply to win a game. I had one focus, beat Dallas. Now I have one focus beat Pittsburgh. Hopefully, in the end they'll say Terry is a head coach."

Certainly, Robiskie learned the chaos of game day from defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield, who didn't play because of the flu, to inoperative headsets that forced two early timeouts. His ability to talk with defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes was sporadic because Robiskie was too busy calling the offensive plays.

But Robiskie was mostly surprised over how the loss was so personally painful. It was a far different feeling than during his 19 years as an assistant coach and five years as a player.

"The biggest lesson I learned that I did not want to learn was the agony of defeat as a head coach," he said. "As an assistant, if we lose the game and [receiver] Michael Westbrook drops a touchdown, I feel Mike let me down. As a head coach, I have the whole team to evaluate, and now you feel like everyone let you down."

Robiskie was confident when he walked onto the field at Texas Stadium. He didn't waste a personal moment looking at the hole in the roof where God supposedly watches his favorite team. Robiskie believes in the adage "act like you've been there before" because he has many times. Self-congratulations on finally becoming a coach wasn't on his list.

The team seemed ready despite the frantic week. Robiskie streamlined practices to give the NFL's oldest team more time off. He told players during the Saturday night team meeting of the rivalry's history. Surely they would be pumped up to play well.

"I thought we had a great week of work. Practices were upbeat. I thought the guys were ready to go. I thought going into the stadium and walking onto the field, guys knew what we were getting ready to face," Robiskie said. "When I watched [the game film], I couldn't understand why nothing from last week transferred over to Sunday."

Despite trailing 12-7 at halftime, Robiskie felt players were poised for a comeback during the locker room break. It would soon unravel on the first offensive series when running back Stephen Davis' fumble led to a quick Cowboys touchdown.

"At halftime, we're screaming, yelling. I thought it was all good in the locker room, all positive energy. We talked about coming out of the locker room in the second half and pound the ball and pound on them and get back in the game," Robiskie said. "We come out and fumble it. I'm not sure that's not the phase where the defense had the [wind] knocked out of their sails."

Robiskie now ponders how to jump-start the team again given its near-playoff elimination. Players have been told their futures are at risk. Assistant coaches understand it, too.

"When we sit there, anyone who has anything to do with the football operations of the Redskins will be told, 'If you're in this room, you're at fault," Robiskie said.

After all, a lousy first impression never looks good on film.

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