- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

“It is not true that I can walk across the Potomac. Not even when it’s frozen.”
Those words were spoken not by Steve Spurrier at last night’s news conference but by Vince Lombardi, the last ostensible coaching savior hired by the Redskins, at his official welcome Feb. 7, 1969.
There are strong parallels between the two hard-bitten, hard-driving football coaches. For one thing, their ages were virtually identical at hiring time: 56 years and eight months for Spurrier, 56 years and seven months for Lombardi, although St. Vince looked much older with his iron-gray hair, severe spectacles and wrinkled mug.
For another, both rode into town with the mission of restoring greatness to a franchise fallen on hard days. When Lombardi arrived, the Redskins had not visited the postseason for 24 years. Spurrier takes up residence with the team a decade away from its last Super Bowl.
Under their respective immediate predecessors, Otto Graham and Marty Schottenheimer, the Redskins were not terrible just mediocre and boring. But Lombardi and Spurrier came in with reputations as men who simply would not countenance that sort of thing.
In Spurrier’s case, well, we’ll see.
We all remember the tragedy that befell Lombardi, terrifyingly swift colon cancer that ended his life after one season with the Redskins in which they improved marginally from 6-8 to 7-5-2. The assumption now is that if Lombardi had lived, he would have restored the franchise to power as George Allen did in the early ‘70s, but we don’t really know. You never know.
Spurrier’s appearance is about as exciting as Lombardi’s was for longtime fans, but we should be cautious. In 1969, Lombardi’s presence was so overwhelming that team president Edward Bennett Williams gladly stepped into the background and stayed there, chortling inwardly that he had brought off this coaching coup. There was no Dan Snyder fidgeting in the wings and muttering about getting more involved.
There are, of course, two great questions about Spurrier. First, can he adapt his ironfisted methods to the NFL, where players do not faint when the coach barks at them? Second, can he adapt to working with Snyder, whose ownership gives him the right as Schottenheimer noted to second-guess the pants off any employee if he so chooses?
Well, we’ve been there before, too, because Redskins founder George Preston Marshall went through coaches like dirty laundry during the team’s fallow period. One year Marshall hired Curly Lambeau, the NFL icon after whom Green Bay’s stadium is named, and fired him after the second exhibition game when the two almost came to blows in a hotel bar.
A lot of people are making book on how long Snyder and Spurrier can co-exist, but consider this: Neither got where he is by being stupid. When Dan bought the team, he was stuck with ineffectual Norv Turner for a season. Schottenheimer was a bad hire from a standpoint of wanting to run the entire shebang, on and off the field. But Spurrier just wants to coach, and his record suggests he’s superb at it. If Snyder stays in his office and out of team business, there’s no reason why the Dan and Steve team can’t work together.
I know that’s an awfully big “if,” but only one thing is necessary to make it happen.
Just win, baby.
Much evidence suggests that big-time college coaches usually fail when they enter the pros, but each case is different. The transition certainly didn’t bother Jimmy Johnson or Barry Switzer, both of whom won Super Bowls. And whoever Spurrier’s quarterback is next season, we can assume that Steve Superior will handle him a little differently than, say, Rex Grossman.
It is important to remember, however, that a coach and his staff can only do so much and not nearly as much as many of us assume. Spurrier will not be throwing any passes or making any tackles, and the Redskins still need a general manager who can bolster the troops, especially on offense.
I’d be delighted to see Ron Wolf come in or Bobby Beathard come back, though I wouldn’t bet on it. One of Schottenheimer’s biggest mistakes was trying to be coach and GM. Back in Lombardi’s day, that might have been possible, but he didn’t have to worry about such nefarious entities as the salary cap, players union and agents peering around every corner.
So while we may anticipate a fruitful Spurrier era, let’s leave the rose-colored glasses in the drawer for awhile. The Redskins have quite a ways to go before becoming an NFL power again, but for openers they’ve got the right coach. Now what they need foremost is the right owner, meaning one who signs the checks and otherwise comports himself as unobtrusively as Edward Bennett Williams and Jack Kent Cooke.
That’s a big order, and Dan Snyder has a chance to prove that he’s a big man. Otherwise he has just flushed $25 million down the toilet.
Given a fair chance, Steve Spurrier may indeed be able to walk on the Potomac or the football equivalent thereof. I hope he gets that chance.

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