- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Instead of throwing millions at Deion Sanders and Bruce Smith this offseason, Dan Snyder is emptying his wallet for Steve Spurrier and Marvin Lewis. That's progress, folks. After three years as the Redskins' owner, Our Man Dan has finally figured out that a football team starts with its offensive (head coach Spurrier) and defensive (Lewis) coordinators, not with "name" free agents near the end of their careers.

Think of the most dominant teams of the past 20 years and the coaches they had calling the shots:

The '80s Redskins: Joe Gibbs (offense) and Richie Petitbon (defense).

The '80s 49ers: Bill Walsh (offense) and George Seifert (defense).

The '90s Cowboys: Norv Turner (offense) and Dave Wannstedt (defense) with Jimmy Johnson as player personnel director.

Not a weak link in the bunch, is there? That's what you're shooting for as an owner brainpower on both sides of the ball. Mike Ditka had his Buddy Ryan. Seifert had his Mike Shanahan (on the '94 49ers). It's no coincidence that those clubs were fabulously successful.

And here's the best part: With coaches, there's no salary cap to worry about. You can pay Spurrier $5 million a year and Lewis close to $1 million (plus incentives), and you don't have to cut a wide receiver or a defensive end to balance the books.

If I'm Snyder, I'm sending a bouquet of roses to the Bucs this morning. Why? Because the hiring of Lewis wouldn't have been possible if he'd landed the head job in Tampa Bay last week. But the Glazer family wasn't sold on Marvin, and since his contract was up in Baltimore, he was able to take advantage of his free agent status and peddle himself to the highest bidder. And when hasn't Snyder been willing to go the extra mile to get what he wanted?

Bringing in Lewis is a great move for two reasons. First, it frees Spurrier to concentrate on his own X's and O's without having to worry about the defense, too. (Making the jump from college to pro ball will be difficult enough for him.) Second, Lewis brings instant credibility. He put together killer defenses with the Ravens and won the Super Bowl last January. So he shouldn't encounter the veteran resistance that Marty Schottenheimer did. The players will assume he knows what he's talking about and isn't just some old fogy who's stuck in his ways.

This is crucial, because Snyder as always wants to win right now. The only plan he's ever had is a one-year plan. Also, there's no telling how long Lewis will be in Washington; he's been considered for head coaching positions the past two offseasons. Indeed, his primary motivation for coming to the Redskins other than the dough, that is seems to be to make himself a stronger candidate for a head job the next time around.

"This gives me an opportunity to learn [about offense] from somebody else," he said. "When you're a defensive coach, you kind of get painted into that corner. It's going to be great to work with Coach Spurrier. And if we do as well as I'd like to here, then I've gone another step. I've won [with two clubs, not just one]."

Lewis might have a better chance to succeed with the Redskins' defense than with what's left of the Ravens'. Salary cap woes figure to cost Baltimore several starters, including Jamie Sharper (expansion list) and Duane Starks (free agent). Washington, on the other hand, is fairly well off cap-wise and has some interesting pieces for Lewis to fool around with. LaVar Arrington, to name one. Champ Bailey, Fred Smoot and Darrell Green, to name three more.

"Special guys," Lewis called the corners.

Don't get too caught up in the size of his contract. Contrary to popular belief, it really doesn't blow the salary scale for assistant coaches to smithereens. The salary scale for assistants has already been blown to smithereens by the Jets, who paid Bill Belichick $3.25 million over three years to be their defensive coordinator in the late '90s. The Redskins are merely acknowledging that, under certain circumstances, coordinators deserve to make as much money as some head coaches.

As Spurrier put it, "The salary cap next year is $71 million. Don't you think the best defensive coordinator in the country is worth one-seventieth of what you're paying your team?"

I certainly do. Frankly, I've never understood how clubs could pay backup quarterbacks $1 million a year and coordinators half that (if not less). It's ridiculous. But times are changing in the NFL. The wealth is beginning to trickle down to the people who pull the all-nighters and make everything work.

It was only a matter of time, I suppose. I mean, we've seen free agent players and free agent coaches (Parcells, Mike Holmgren, Dick Vermeil, etc.). And now Marvin Lewis is in the first wave of free agent assistants. Heck, he might be remembered as much for that as for anything he accomplishes in a headset.

But the Redskins hope not.


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