- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

These next five weeks should tell us a lot about Steve Spurrier and his prospects for long-term employment in Washington. Such a bold pronouncement may sound premature, but as Jerry Glanville, the Confucius of coaching, once said, "NFL stands for Not For Long."
The Redskins, you may have noticed, are 1-2 in Spurrier's first lap around the league, and his celebrated Fun 'n' Gun attack has misfired more often than not the past two weeks. It produced no points in the 37-7 flogging by Philadelphia and a single touchdown in the 20-10 loss to the virus-riddled 49ers. The misadventures of Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel, the Ballcoach's hand-picked quarterbacks, make you wonder if the offense's preseason success was merely a mirage, an August apparition.
The challenge facing Spurrier right now is to keep the confidence of his club, and it won't be easy. After a bye week, the Redskins go up against the Titans, Saints, Packers and Colts, and a 1-2 start could conceivably turn into a 2-5 or 1-6 disaster. What would that do to their mental state and the coach's credibility rating? Spurrier may have a track record as a winner, but it's on the college level, primarily. He still has to prove his system can work in the NFL. And a string of losses might lead the players to question everything he does.
That hasn't happened yet. After Sunday's defeat, Rod Gardner stood by his man, saying, "We know that coach Spurrier's offense is the type of offense that can get it done." Similar testimonials were uttered elsewhere in the locker room. But will the Redskins still feel the same way a month from now, or will everybody be scrambling for lifeboats?
If Spurrier truly is All That, he needs to start showing it now. He needs to show he didn't entirely misjudge his offensive personnel, particularly the QBs. He needs to show he can make do with the talent on hand, even though it may be lacking in some areas. That's what the best coaches do. That's what he's being paid $5million a year to do.
If Spurrier truly is an X's-and-O's wizard, then surely he can come up with ways to get the ball to Gardner more; Stephen Davis, too. Rod caught only one pass against the Niners. Indeed, just five of the Redskins' 18 completions were to wideouts. I think back to Joe Gibbs getting the ball to Art Monk a record-setting 106 times in '84, the year Charlie Brown got hurt. Great offensive minds do that sort of thing and lesser ones don't.
Gibbs used to put Monk at tight end on occasion to give him better matchups. Mike Holmgren would line up Sterling Sharpe in the backfield much as Mike Shanahan does Rod Smith to make it harder for defenses to cover him. Spurrier needs to come up with stuff like that for Gardner. Unless, of course, he wants to keep scoring touchdowns at the rate of one every two weeks.
Davis' situation is more complicated. He didn't get many carries in the Eagles game because the Redskins fell behind early and were forced to abandon the run. But he didn't get many carries against the 49ers (13, only four in the second half) because Spurrier is Spurrier and has a compulsive need to throw the ball.
The third quarter playcalling was particularly curious. Davis picked up three yards off left guard on the first play, but then Matthews threw five straight passes (incomplete, 6-yard gain, incomplete, 5-yard gain, incomplete). Both possessions resulted in punts. At the time, the Redskins were trailing, 17-10. There was no reason they couldn't have tried to pound it a little with Davis, especially considering all the trouble they were having pass blocking. But their coach had other ideas.
Players aren't dummies. When their top offensive weapon is marginalized by his own coach and their No.1 receiver catches only one ball, they wonder what the heck is going on. Spurrier has to see to it that it doesn't happen again; because if it does, he'll be sowing the seeds of doubt.
His handling of the quarterbacks is also a concern and another indication, perhaps, that he still has some things to learn about pro football. A coach can't be jerking his QB because he goes four series without making a first down as Spurrier did to Matthews on Sunday. Four series might be a long time at the University of Florida, but it isn't a long time in the NFL. Besides, Matthews is clearly the team's ablest quarterback, and his first half against the Niners wasn't half-bad. The Ballcoach said he thought Wuerffel would give the offense a spark in the fourth quarter, but there was nothing in Danny's recent play to suggest that. The interception he threw, snuffing out the Redskins' last threat, was almost predictable (and disturbingly similar to others he's heaved).
The next five weeks figure to have all kinds of ramifications for the Redskins. Should their skid continue, for instance, Jon Jansen, due to become a free agent in the offseason, might decide he'd be better off elsewhere. ("Very discouraged" and "extremely disappointed" was how he described himself after the 49ers game.)
And if Spurrier hands rookie Patrick Ramsey the quarterback job thereby essentially packing it in for the season he has to sell his players on the move, convince them it makes sense in the long run. This can be difficult, especially with veterans, who usually aren't too thrilled about rebuilding programs.
Can't say I blame them. After all, David Carr, the first pick in this year's draft, hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since Week 1, and Joey Harrington, the third pick, was intercepted four times Sunday in his starting debut. There's no reason to believe Ramsey's first steps will be any steadier than theirs have been. (I won't even bring up Heath Shuler's apprenticeship, which began interestingly enough in Game 4 of the '94 season after a bye week.)
It's time for Spurrier to show us what he's got. A storm has kicked up, and he has to make sure it doesn't turn into a hurricane.
Sorry for that Miami reference, Steve. It was just a slip of the keyboard.


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