- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2002

The 2001 Washington Redskins began with a dreadful preseason, an 0-5 start and some veterans grumbling about the methods of new coach Marty Schottenheimer. Today, they will close with Schottenheimer's job in jeopardy even though many players like the club's direction.
Schottenheimer's relationship with the players has come a long way from training camp. Some players say privately that he came in determined to instill discipline but by midseason realized that the roster, purged of many of 2000's high-priced players and several prima donnas, already had a good bit of it.
Not every player completely bought into Schottenheimer's system, but enough did to rally the club to a possible .500 finish today against the Arizona Cardinals.
"It was a combination of both sides compromising," linebacker Robert Jones said yesterday. "Coach Marty had a philosophy that he had won with. … He had to keep working at it to try to convince players. He had meetings with players individually, collectively. We came to, like, an agreement. We couldn't get him to come the whole way, and he couldn't get us convinced that we should do everything that he said. So as a team, collectively, I think we compromised on both sides. And we started winning football games."
The season's turning point has been well-documented. Players and coaches had a clear-the-air meeting after a Week 3 blowout loss to Kansas City. Schottenheimer made some schedule adjustments altering weightlifting times for veterans and letting players sleep away from the team hotel before home games and conceded that he hadn't communicated as effectively as possible. The players, after meeting among themselves, agreed to shelve their concerns and play for each other.
"He wasn't going to change," running back Stephen Davis said. "A lot of guys were like, 'We've got to do it for each other. He's not going to change, but we've got to go out and play football.' We didn't want to get embarrassed. We wanted to go about our business and have fun while we were doing it."
After two more losses, the Redskins became the first team to follow an 0-5 start with five straight wins. But they never rose above .500, despite two chances to do so at home, and the season will end with Schottenheimer out of the playoffs for just the fourth time in his 15 full seasons as a coach.
Fullback Donnell Bennett, who spent five seasons under Schottenheimer in Kansas City, believes players who initially had trouble with the coach's system learned to live with it.
"I think they really accepted it," Bennett said. "Once they saw that this is an opportunity, that, hey, this thing could work, [once] we got a couple wins under our belt and things started rolling for us, I think a lot of people bought into this system."
Of course, cornerback Darrell Green has said he never would become a "Marty guy," and team sources have said defensive end Bruce Smith never embraced Schottenheimer. Yesterday Green said he was optimistic about the team's future "either way," while Smith declined comment.
But many players did grow close to Schottenheimer as the season progressed, and a number said that the club demonstrated enough improvement to warrant the coach staying for at least one more year.
"There's no question about it: We made a lot of strides," guard Ben Coleman said. "We're definitely a team on the rise."
Schottenheimer declined comment. But some of his feelings have become clear in recent weeks. One, he believed that he did make some mistakes, particularly when it came to communicating. Two, those mistakes wouldn't lead to dramatic changes if he was to remain coach. Three, and perhaps a bit surprisingly, he had a lot of fun this season.
Guard Dave Szott, another player who got to know Schottenheimer well in Kansas City, said the coach wasn't being misleading about having fun.
"Absolutely," Szott said. "And I think in a lot of regards it might have been one of the best coaching jobs they've done, considering the circumstances and what we've gone through. It has been a lot of fun, and he's a different guy. Back in Kansas City, he was a lot more uptight. He's relaxed more. I think he's definitely enjoyed this season more than in the past."


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