- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 20, 2003

When Otto Graham came to Washington to coach the Redskins, it was supposed to be a new era of football here — a wide-open, high-scoring offensive machine.

Sound familiar?

“I’m not a conservative coach,” Graham declared. “I’m not Vince Lombardi.”

He was right. He was no Vince Lombardi. Graham went 17-22-3 from 1966 to 1968 coaching the Redskins.

What he may have been was the 1960s versions of Steve Spurrier.

“He said he was not cut out to coach professional football, but he did it for [Redskins owner] Edward Bennett Williams,” Sonny Jurgensen told reporters. “What he really enjoyed was coaching the Coast Guard Academy.”

A high-profile coach whose heart really wasn’t in the job but who was sought after by an aggressive, star-struck owner.

Sound like anyone we know?

Otto Graham died Wednesday at 82, and his three seasons coaching the Redskins were a wart on an otherwise illustrious football career.

Spurrier can take heart, though. This week’s headline did not read, “Losing Washington Redskins coach Otto Graham dies at 82.” It read, “Hall of Fame QB Otto Graham dies at 82.”

Unless Spurrier goes on from Washington to continued failure, his stint coaching the Redskins also probably will be nothing more than a wart on a brilliant college coaching career.

But it will be a wart, even if Spurrier winds up staying for another season, and anyone who believes otherwise — that Spurrier is an NFL coach — might as well declare himself a card-carrying disciple of Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, the Iraqi Minister of Information who raised spin to new levels of comedy during the war. It is nearly that big a leap of faith.

Spurrier himself got so caught up in all the spin about his future this week that he appeared dizzy. He started the week by declaring there would be a reshuffling and reorganization within the organization, raising speculation that he would be flushing his coaching staff down the drain. The next day he declared he had no plans to fire any of his assistants. A day later, he said he didn’t say he wasn’t planning to fire anyone either.

“All I was trying to say was that if there are some changes, it would have to occur after the season,” Spurrier said. “I don’t really even like to talk about all that. But when the season’s over, whatever you have to do differently, that’s when we do it. Not during the season.”

When he was asked if that meant he was going to fire some of his assistants, Spurrier said, “I’m not getting into all that. We’ll announce that when the time comes if it does come. How’s that for not saying anything?”

Not that great, Coach. You were a lot more interesting when you were wisecracking in Gainesville.

The game that is taking place off the field, though, is more interesting than what the Redskins, now 5-9 and looking at 5-10 after they travel to Chicago to play the Bears tomorrow, are doing on the field.

Spurrier and owner Dan Snyder are doing battle in the press, no matter what each of them says. When there is a report in another newspaper that the coach might fire some of his assistants, as there was at the start of this week to kick off all the speculation, it is the owner talking. His name may be nowhere to be found, but if you want to make a far more reasonable leap of faith than Steve Spurrier turning this around, believe that Snyder is behind that report.

And when Spurrier spoke of a “restructuring” within the organization, it is believed that he was looking upward, toward the front office, and not within his own staff. Following that was the report that there would be no changes in the decision-making process — that Vinny Cerrato is still Danny’s boy, another shot fired by the owner.

Tomorrow they will honor Graham’s memory in Cleveland, where he led the Browns to 10 championship games in the 10 years he played for them.

There likely will be no mention of his coaching tenure in Washington, where, when he arrived, Graham declared, “I realize that winning is the most important thing in pro football, but I think you have to put on a good show, too. … I’d rather risk losing some games by, say, 35-28 and have the fans off their seats with excitement. I think the players would have more fun, too. I think hard work wins football games, but I think football can be fun, too.”

It had its moments, but the reality is that football in Washington wasn’t very much fun until Lombardi — the self-described antithesis of Graham — arrived. And it certainly isn’t very much fun now. If Steve Spurrier is as fortunate as Otto Graham, someday they won’t remember all this.

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