- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

As a rule, college coaches do about as well in the NFL as fillies do in the Kentucky Derby. Pro football was a humbling experience, indeed, for Bud Wilkinson, John McKay, Dan Devine and Frank Kush. Bear Bryant's name might be on the list, too, if he hadn't had second thoughts about taking the Dolphins job in 1970. Same goes for Joe Paterno, who almost accepted an offer from the Patriots a few years later.
These are the odds Steve Spurrier is bucking as he prepares to bring his Wild West Show to pro football. For every Jimmy Johnson, there have been 10 Mike Rileys, a half-dozen Dennis Ericksons. As successful as Spurrier has been at Florida and Duke before that it's still reasonable to wonder whether he can pull it off at the pro level. In the NFL, he'll have to wait his turn in the draft, just like everybody else, instead of dipping into Florida's bountiful talent pool every year. Also, there aren't any Vanderbilts or Kentuckies in the league (though the Bengals are close).
Still, my money's on Spurrier. He might not win two Super Bowls like Johnson, but I'd be surprised if he didn't at least have a Don Coryell-type career in the NFL. And wasn't pro football a better place in the '70s and '80s with Air Coryell around?
That's what Steve Superior has going for him that so many other college coaches don't: a thorough understanding of the passing game. And in the pros, as Bill Walsh will tell you, you don't run to set up the pass, you pass to set up the run.
Actually, Spurrier has already shown he can pull it off at the pro level that is, if you consider the USFL the pro level. In his three seasons with the Tampa Bay Bandits in the early '80s, he went 35-19 and made the playoffs twice. And that was his first head-coaching experience, after a brief period as a college assistant. But he held his own against the likes of George Allen, Marv Levy, Jim Mora, Walt Michaels, Jack Pardee and John Ralston (among others), all of whom have had their moments in the NFL.
It has always mystified me why an NFL club didn't hire Spurrier right then, why he had to settle for the decidedly unglamorous Duke job. After all, when he was in Tampa, he upstaged and outdrew the Bucs. Bandit Ball was so much more exciting than the Student Body Right, Student Body Left stuff the other team in town was running.
Most college coaches good college coaches have failed in the pros because they had a very college approach to offense. That was certainly true of Devine, McKay, Lou Holtz and Tommy Prothro. Barry Switzer, who presided over the Cowboys' demise, ran the wishbone at Oklahoma. Ron Meyer, who got two NFL shots, made a name for himself with the Pony Express backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James at SMU. Neither was a good bet to become the next Paul Brown.
But coaches like Coryell, Bobby Ross and Johnson, who had a high-octane offense at the University of Miami, have greater possibilities in the pros. And Spurrier falls into that category as well. It's not that they're averse to running the ball, they just like gaining their yardage in larger chunks. (If Spurrier's a little more insistent about it, maybe it's because he was a quarterback and, on the sideline, thinks like a quarterback. With a wave of neo-conservatism sweeping the NFL, the league can certainly use a free thinker like him.)
Contrary to popular belief, Spurrier didn't always have a world of talent to work with at Florida. From '91 to '96 that's six years, folks he didn't have a single offensive player taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. Not one. In fact, he had only two offensive players in that stretch who were drafted in the first three rounds (wide receiver Ernie Mills in the third in '91 and running back Errict Rhett in the second in '94.) Interesting, huh?
His more recent teams have had a bunch of high draft picks but, outside of Fred Taylor, no one to die for. Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony and Travis Taylor were all No.1s, but they pale in comparison to, say, the trio of receivers that came out of Ohio State around the same time Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn and David Boston. Imagine what Spurrier could have done with them.
Also, none of his quarterbacks Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel, Jesse Palmer, et al. has accomplished much in the pros. So was it really the players that made Florida great, or was it the system?
We'll find out soon enough. The Carolina situation would seem to be set up the best for him. The Panthers are sitting second in the draft, and Spurrier could probably have his pick of the quarterbacks Joey Harrington, David Carr, whoever he wanted.
As for the Redskins job, well, he already rebuffed Dan Snyder once, didn't he? But then, once upon a time, Marty Schottenheimer said he could never work for an owner like Dan and look at him now.

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