Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier thought a punter might be worth a first-round pick. It seems “Ball Coach” has learned there’s more to the NFL than offense after all.
Spurrier named an offensive coordinator so he can spend more time with the defense and special teams. He’ll start studying the draft and scanning free agent prospects. Players will even be fined for mental mistakes next year as part of a more aggressive coaching stance.
It’s no longer strictly “pitch and catch” for Spurrier after a disappointing 7-9 season. Instead, Spurrier adopted predecessor Norv Turner’s “all three phases” attitude yesterday after conceding he concentrated far too much on the offense in his first year.
“If I don’t know a lot, I don’t pretend I know a lot,” Spurrier said. “Some coaches I guess bluff their way through knowing a little bit about everything, but I’m not very good at that. I sort of sit back and let everyone do their job and hopefully now I’ve learned a little bit that I can have some input in every phase of our team.”
Spurrier and his assistants left for a 10-day vacation before regrouping at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., to scout draft prospects. They’ll start rating prospects for free agency’s start on March4 and the draft on April26. There’s also game films to review in revamping the offense. Certainly, there will be some breaks for his beloved golf game that Spurrier has abandoned for more than five months.
Bridging the gap from college to pros has Spurrier realizing he has to be more than a playcaller. He can’t spend the special teams portions of practice sitting in a cart to rest his sore back.
“Just a little bit more contact, I need to do,” he said. “Just have a hand in what’s going on in the draft and negotiations. I’m not going to negotiate with players, but just have a little voice here and there. Some input on what’s going on because that’s what the head coach needs to do.”
Said linebacker LaVar Arrington: “You can build relationships with the defensive players. It’s not a crime.”
Players began noticing a difference in Spurrier over the past few weeks. He finally adapted his Fun ‘n’ Gun offense to target receivers rather than sending seemingly everyone but the center out for a pass. He no longer worried about winning with style points like he did in blowing out college teams. Spurrier even reduced last-second audibles using hand signals that caused innumerable delay of game penalties.
“He made changes. He wasn’t stuck on his ways ‘This is my way. It’s going to work,’” receiver Rod Gardner said. “He’s still learning and this gives him a lot of time to look back on the season and see what he could have done to make it better.”
Spurrier even discovered ball control and field position in the 20-14 victory over Dallas on Sunday. He abandoned seven-step dropbacks for quicker slants. Spurrier began appreciating the running game after he berated players in the locker room when the Redskins completed only 10 passes in defeating Seattle on Nov.3.
“It’s just like a rookie football player there’s going to be a lot of stuff that opens his eyes. I think Coach had the same thing. He learned the dos and the don’ts,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “It’s part of growing. It’s part of life.”
Spurrier wasn’t completely humbled by his first losing season since 1987. He still thinks the pass-control offense can succeed after ranking 20th this season.
“I still believe you can audible in this league,” Spurrier said. “Some people tell me you can’t, but I don’t believe that. I believe you can change the play at the line of scrimmage. I believe you have to. I don’t know how you can guess what the defense is all the time.”
Spurrier won’t rival predecessor Marty Schottenheimer’s strict training camp when it resumes July25. However, Spurrier seems more resolute to ending the minus-14 turnover ratio fourth worst in the NFL even if it means docking paychecks or handing pink slips.
“If the same guys are having the careless penalties you either get rid of them or fine them a big fine or do something, but you just can’t say ‘Don’t do that again,’” he said.