- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2003

A battle is brewing between Steve Spurrier and Washington Redskins management over the fate of his assistant coaches, several of whom have come under scrutiny during this season of unmet expectations.

Spurrier continues to give full support to his staff, but he is likely to face pressure from above to make changes this offseason and could find himself forced to choose between saving his own job or standing behind his assistants and walking out.

Sources close to Redskins management say there has been dissatisfaction with several of Spurrier’s assistants. Defensive coordinator George Edwards and offensive line coach Kim Helton have come under the most public fire, but there also has been criticism of Spurrier’s less experienced staffers who followed him from Florida to the NFL.

Assistants who fall under that category include wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr., tight ends coach Lawson Holland, quarterbacks coach Noah Brindise and outside linebackers coach Jim Collins.

Special teams coach Mike Stock, a veteran of 14 NFL seasons, also has an uncertain future, if only because his contract expires at the end of the season.

Several times in recent weeks, Spurrier has offered full support for his staff. Asked about his assistants yesterday, though, he seemed to suggest that he is not totally opposed to some change.

“I certainly hope and plan that most all of them will be back,” Spurrier said. “But they may get a better offer somewhere, or what have you. This is something you address at the end of the season always.”

Spurrier has complete control over the hiring and firing of his staff, but he is likely to face pressure from owner Dan Snyder and others in the front office to make changes. Such a mandate from above, sources said, could ultimately lead to a tug of war between Spurrier and Snyder in which the coach must decide whether to be loyal to the Redskins or to his staff.

If Spurrier agrees to fire one or more of his assistants, it would be yet another sign of his willingness to adapt to the NFL. If he stands by his staff, it would say far more about him as a human being, but also could lead to his departure, whether by forced resignation or firing.

Spurrier is in the second year of his five-year, $25million contract, and he continues to say he plans to return next season.

Redskins players have publicly stood behind the coaching staff throughout the season. While some players privately have expressed problems with some assistants, most seem to prefer that the staff remain intact for continuity’s sake.

Washington has had five different defensive coordinators in five years, and veteran players who have been around can’t bear the thought of another change.

In Edwards’ case, players mention that growing pains were to be expected this year. Edwards, a first-time NFL defensive coordinator, knew coming into the season that it could take time for his unit to come together.

But he and players point to the Redskins’ improvements on defense the last month. Following last week’s 20-7 victory over the struggling New York Giants, Washington saw its league defensive ranking rise from 26th to 22nd.

“We’ve taken baby steps, but I think we have been stepping in the right direction,” Edwards said yesterday. “Last week I think we made some progress on some things.

“Anytime you’ve got changes in personnel, you know, it’s new for those guys as well. Especially up front, we had a lot of guys who were new. But they’ve progressed, and we’re getting the most out of our ability, I think.”

Asked if he’s thought at any time about his future with the club, Edwards replied, “All I’ve been thinking about is the next opponent [the Dallas Cowboys] on Sunday at FedEx Field.”

Perhaps lost among the coaching criticisms is the accountability of Redskins players. Spurrier has on occasion indirectly suggested that the players deserve a good portion of the blame for Washington’s 5-8 record.

But he also recognizes the nature of the business: You can’t fire the players. The blame, inevitably, always comes back to the coaches.

“It hasn’t worked as well as we’d hoped,” Spurrier said. “Sometimes as coaches, you’re judged on just how your players play. … If you’re not very good, you try to get better players, I guess. But I think our coaches have worked extremely hard and have done a good job.”

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