- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Now that was more like it for a little while, anyway.
After the Redskins got thumped by New Orleans on Sunday, we caught a glimpse of the real Steve Spurrier, the say-anything, damn-the-diplomacy Steve Spurrier, the Steve Spurrier whose gift of gab and willingness to use it has inspired a new book called "Quotable Spurrier The Nerve, Verve and Victorious Words Of and About America's Most Scrutinized Football Coach" by Gene Frenette.
Bursting with anger after the 43-27 defeat, the first-year Redskins coach stalked into the interview room and tongue-lashed the entire squad, players and coaches alike. "As a team it looks like we don't care whether we win the game or not," he seethed. "It's pitiful watching us play right now. Obviously we looked like a very poorly coached team. Offense, defense, special teams. Everyone, hell."
Spurrier clutched a nearly empty bottle of Gatorade that you knew he wanted to chuck across the room, or maybe at a sportswriter. His jaw was clenched in a vise grip of frustration as he sputtered and fumed. Glib, hell. Word has it that some of Spurrier's best lines were rehearsed, but this was unscripted. He lamented the lack of "discipline" and "responsibility," and promised to make changes. He said he wasn't "here to criticize anybody," meaning anybody in particular, but he did single out the secondary and the special teams. "As a team overall, we look pretty bad right now," he said. He kept using the word, "disappointing."
Wrapping up, Spurrier said, "Our fans want to see some guys bust their tail and hustle out there, and they didn't get that today. We're gonna try and get it, make it happen. We're gonna try and make it happen." And then he left the podium, presumably to start making it happen. No "any more questions?" He just left. Time of discourse: a rather brief 6 minutes, 40 seconds.
From the standpoint of raw emotion and rage-inspired bluntness, it was good stuff, Spurrier unplugged and unhinged, baring his soul, shooting from the lip. But a lot of coaches, 10 minutes removed from a bad loss, react with similar candor and vent to the media. It wasn't all that unusual.
And wouldn't you know it? The fire quickly went out. By Monday, Spurrier had calmed down to the point that he said after watching the films, he might have been a bit too harsh. Spurrier backtracking? Say it ain't so.
A difficult transition from college to the NFL was to be expected. The Redskins simply lack the talent to produce the consistent winning to which Spurrier is accustomed. Perhaps this will change over time. And let's hope Spurrier does, too, because in one area he has been a total bust so far. Hard as it might be to believe, Steve Spurrier just hasn't been very interesting.
True, you need victories to produce "Victorious Words." But where's the "Nerve?" Where's the "Verve?" Since taking over in January, and especially since the start of training camp, we haven't seen nor heard much evidence of either. Instead of infuriating opposing players, coaches and fans, and relishing it, Spurrier has gone conservative. Instead of airing it out, he is running off tackle, leaving cameras, tape recorders and notebooks mostly devoid of anything that might later wind up in a book that retails for $14.95.
This isn't the Spurrier we expected, the Spurrier who trashed rivals, enemies and other general naysayers, and also put in a few words for himself, while coaching at Duke and Florida and in the U.S. Football League. He may be cocky, he may be arrogant, he may be full of himself, but, darn it, the ol' Ballcoach has been sounding like any other ol' ballcoach.
Even what seemed at first to be vintage Spurrier has been watered down. Like his outburst after the Saints game. Or when he announced his resignation at Florida, and he talked about NFL coaches who work excessive hours with limited results. Spurrier even singled out one early riser, New Orleans coach Jim Haslett, which he pronounced, "Haze-lett." Said Spurrier, "It's not doing him any good, coming in at 4:30 [a.m.]."
That's the Steve Spurrier we expected. But having not yet (officially) taken the Redskins job, Spurrier probably had no idea the Saints and Haze-lett would be showing up with a 4-1 record at FedEx Field in October to play his new team. Whoops. So last week, Spurrier resorted to the standard, wimpy defense we expect from other coaches, coaches whose words are not printed and bound between two covers, except in the team playbook. That being, he said his statement was "was blown out of proportion."
Surely Spurrier is capable of something better. He is the only NFL coach to have his witty, astute observations stacked on the new releases table at Barnes & Noble. No one is rushing "The Quotable Belichick" into print. It's doubtful publishers are clawing each other over "The Wit and Wisdom of Dom Capers."
The thing is, even when he was coaching at Florida, probably 90 percent of anything Spurrier said publicly was typical coachspeak. It's that 10 percent we're missing out on. Where's the Spurrier who, referring to the University of Tennessee having to settle for lesser bowl games, said, "You can't spell Citrus without UT?"
Where's the snappy churlishness that, after Kentucky tried several onside kicks against Florida, caused him to say, "If I had a defense like [Kentucky coach] Hal Mumme, I'd be trying them on every kickoff?"
Where's the bold, brazen instigator who, in the wake of the Florida State shoe scandal, referred to the school as "Free Shoes University?"
And that dormitory fire at Auburn? For some reason, it was reported that 20 textbooks were destroyed. Remember what Spurrier said? "But the real shame is that 15 books hadn't been colored yet," that's what.
Maybe we should have known. The tipoff might have come early. When Spurrier was introduced as the new coach, this is what he said about the Redskins' hated rivals, Public Enemy No.1, The One Team They Have to Beat: "I can't make any guarantees, but we will be ready to play the Dallas Cowboys."
Hmmm. That's not nearly as sharp as what he said about Georgia, which is Florida's hated rival: "Why is it that during recruiting season, they sign all the great players, but when it comes time to play the game, we have all the great players? I don't understand that. What happens to them?"
Of course, Spurrier's Gators had just defeated the Bulldogs 45-13, and he had yet to play the Cowboys. Still, now that the book is out, the bar has been raised. By having his quotations published, Spurrier is running with a pretty fast crowd. "Quotable Spurrier" is part of a series called "Potent Quotables" by the Nashville-based TowleHouse Publishing Co., and those whose words also are reproduced include Woody Hayes, John Wooden, Bob Knight, Martin Luther King Jr., Rudy Giuliani and Casey Stengel. Not a bad little dinner party.
We know Spurrier has it in him. And, yes, he has shown his fastball on occasion, like when he said back in the spring, "I know people are wondering about how I am going to make the adjustment from college to the pros, but our offense will finish ranked in the top five in the league. You can count on that."
But that can be dangerous. and Spurrier knows it. He's usually better speaking after the fact, blowout in hand. Like when he was asked why he went for a touchdown at the end of a lopsided win over Georgia at the Bulldogs' home field in Athens, Ga., where the two teams rarely play.
"We knew coming in nobody had scored 50 points against them, so that's what we wanted to do," he said. "This may be the only time in our lifetime that Florida plays here, so we wanted to make it memorable for the Gators."
The Redskins, on the other hand, have been on the receiving end of blowouts in two games already, affording Spurrier less opportunity for anything similar to what he said after the Gators whomped Mississippi State last season: "Their pass defense was No.1 in the nation coming in, but it won't be going out."
Those last two quotes come from the best part of the book, the section called, "Opponents, Rivalries and Smirks." Usually, the opponents have been beaten, the rivalries are long-standing and the smirks part of the fruits of victory. It's easy to talk a little trash when the opponent can't point at the scoreboard. Spurrier, just a little more than a quarter through his first NFL season, hasn't done anything yet.
"I think it's easier to be glib and funny when he's had the kind of success he had at Florida," said Frenette, a veteran Florida Times-Union columnist who compiled the quotes. "It's easier to maybe poke fun at opponents.
"It's easy to be funny when you're winning. The jokes are more funny, the lines you throw out are more funny. It's not as funny when you're throwing out zingers right and left and playing .500 football."
Frenette, who covered more than half of Spurrier's Florida games, said he recalls Spurrier being similarly subdued during his early years, before the program became one of the most successful in college football. He said he expects Spurrier to emerge from his shell if the Redskins start winning, because that's simply who he is.
"I think Steve just has a playful nature about him," said Frenette, who noted that Spurrier's background (he's the son of a Tennessee minister) seems to belie a sense of humor.
"It's certainly not a typical trait of someone who was raised in the South and raised by a minister," Frenette said. "It just comes down to the fact that he likes the game, likes the playful nature of the barbs going back and forth."
In the book, Spurrier says, "I really don't think I say all that much. It just gets interpreted stronger, I guess, because no other coaches say anything."
C'mon Steve, don't get caught up with those guys. As you no doubt would attest, you're better than they are.

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