At the carefully orchestrated time of 6 p.m. yesterday, just in time for local newscasts to open with live coverage and with media from around the nation on hand, Steve Spurrier introduced himself to Washington.
Redskins football was back in the big time, thanks to the Southern “ball coach” with the sharp resume, staggering contract and bold reputation. Everyone wanted to hear from the new coach who’s smart enough to whip his opponents, brash enough to keep scoring when they’re down and fearless enough to take a verbal shot at ‘em every now and then.
And so it came as quite a surprise when Spurrier spent much of his approximately 40-minute news conference playing down all those preconceptions, defining himself as someone who simply wants to get past all the hype and get back to drawing up his “ball plays.”
“I sort of apologize for all the attention I’ve received the past few days,” Spurrier opened his news conference by saying. “I’ll be glad when tomorrow gets here and I can get back to being the ball coach of the Washington Redskins.”
No, Spurrier doesn’t yell at his players as much as reputed. No, he doesn’t irk opposing coaches with deep shots and potshots as much as reported. No, he doesn’t spend all of his leisure time (and some of his work time) playing golf. No, he doesn’t avoid early hours at the office like a zone blitz. And no, his offense isn’t all passing, all downfield, all touchdowns, all the time.
“Everybody says, ‘All he does is throw the ball all over the ballpark,’” Spurrier said. “We do throw it all over the ballpark, but we also run the ball. … I don’t know what style is best for us right now. It depends on what our personnel is. If running the ball 40 times and throwing 20 gives us the best chance to win the game, that’s what we’ll do.”
In size and grandeur, the setting was similar to the news conference a little more than a year earlier to introduce Marty Schottenheimer, who was fired as coach and director of football operations Sunday.
But there seemed to be more excitement at Redskin Park this time, probably because Spurrier’s success is a question of more than local import, unlike Schottenheimer’s. Everyone everywhere wants to see if Spurrier, one of the college game’s best coaches for the past 12 years at the University of Florida, can win big in the NFL.
Spurrier himself, though, wasn’t about to boost the expectations that accompany his five-year, $25 million contract, which makes him the league’s highest paid coach.
“I don’t want to talk too big right now,” Spurrier said.
Goals were left relatively vague. Of course, there will be the pursuit of playoff berths and varying championships division, conference and Super Bowl but more specifically Spurrier hopes to exit Washington like iconic Redskins coach Joe Gibbs (on his own terms) and win his fair share against the hated Dallas Cowboys. In fact, in a collegiate embrace of rivalry, Spurrier made the Cowboys his new Tennessee.
“I understand that’s a game our fans really want to win,” Spurrier said. “All I can say is that I’ll do my part, just like everybody else, to beat those Dallas Cowboys.”
Spurrier spoke in a relaxed, easy-going manner, and during his opening remarks he went without a prepared speech or notes. His humor came through, though it wasn’t a stand-up comedy routine. He received what might have been his biggest laugh when he summed up the courting process between he and Snyder.
“All I can say is Mr. Snyder walked in and said this is the deal,” Spurrier recalled, “and I said OK.”
Ah, yes, “Mr. Snyder.” Spurrier mixed that honorific with a casual “Dan” here and there far less conspicuously than Schottenheimer’s resonating “Daniel” last year. And Spurrier, though nearly two decades older than his boss (56 to 37), gave clear deference to the owner, making several references to Snyder’s control at forthcoming impasses control Snyder gave to Schottenheimer and for which he ended up firing him.
Snyder himself said little, in contrast to last year. At Schottenheimer’s introduction the owner and coach sat next to each other at a table, and Snyder answered questions at length, both on the podium and in a side session.
That backfired in the long run. Snyder’s declarations that Schottenheimer was his “stamp on the organization” and “would set the destiny for the franchise” have been replayed in the media this week as a cruel reminder of their parting.
Another way in which the news conferences differed was attendance by players. Schottenheimer had only one or two on hand; Spurrier had nearly a dozen, including future Hall of Famers Bruce Smith and Darrell Green. Both veterans embraced the new coach, with Smith going so far as to announce that he will return for an 18th season.
But one ingredient clearly dominated both scenes: optimism. The Redskins once again believe they are pointed in the right direction. Spurrier might be their fourth coach in the past two years, but he believes he and Snyder can coexist and keep this franchise in the big time it enjoyed last night.
“In fact, somebody asked if I could survive Dan Snyder, and I said I survived Duke University twice,” Spurrier said. “I understand the setup that Dan wants. He wants the setup that [Jack Kent] Cooke had in the days they won the Super Bowl. I agree with him. I hope we can get that way and go have a good time.”