- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

CHICAGO Ho, ho, ho. That’s about all the Washington Redskins could say after squeezing down the chimney and giving the Chicago Bears this early Christmas gift.

A week earlier Troy Hambrick was Tony Dorsett. Yesterday, Anthony Thomas was Walter Payton. If Chicago’s offense ranked any lower entering the game, it would have been Division I-A. No problem against the Redskins. With any luck, Washington boarded the bus last night without its run defense, fitting it with cement shoes and letting it sink to the bottom of Lake Michigan.

Five wins? Six wins? Hey, everything’s still possible. The Redskins could be really, really bad, or really, really, really bad. As much of the Washington area starts its holiday vacation, the Monday Morning Quarterback is open for business, continuing to probe just what shade of black and blue this club will finish.

Q: Whoo-hoo! Another close loss. What, did the Redskins get some sort of bulk discount on those this season?

A: Barely losing has become this club’s forte. Whether it’s the coin flip against the Giants, a blown 2-point conversion against the Eagles, a three-pack of dissipated fourth-quarter leads or yesterday’s improbable field goal by Paul Edinger, Washington has figured out how to lose. Heck, the team has its doctorate by now. But don’t start thinking the Redskins are just a play or two away — unless you mean a play or two away from losing worse.

Q: All right, don’t bore us with the details. Redskins lose. Blah, blah, blah. Cut to the chase. Is Spurrier coming back next year?

A: The latest signs are yes. He has given no indications — publicly or privately — that he’s ready to give up on his shot in the NFL. In fact, his mood has picked up noticeably over the past week or so. And the owner, regardless of Spurrier’s decisions on his assistant coaches, apparently won’t threaten him with his job.

Q: “Indications.” “Apparently.” What’s the deal? We want hard answers.

A: Sorry. We’re “absolutely” not willing to give them. Thing is, no one’s quite sure exactly what will happen. The most likely scenario has Spurrier coming back with at least a few of his assistants axed. Yesterday’s defensive collapse might have sealed the fate of defensive coordinator George Edwards. And offensive line coach Kim Helton has had the look of a goner. But Spurrier has stayed quiet, even internally, about his plans. So even inside the organization, to varying extents, people have been reading the tea leaves.

Q: So how many heads roll? Are we talking Sleepy Hollow or the French Revolution?

A: That’s the thing: No one thinks Spurrier will totally change his staff. If Edwards is fired, the new coordinator will bring in his own guys, and that’s a big change right there. Then you’re talking about Helton, a couple of the inexperienced assistants on offense … It’s almost as if one could make a case for any or none of the assistants leaving. There could be a whole range of scenarios emerging after Saturday’s game against Philadelphia.

Q: Yeah, we unloaded our tickets to that one three weeks ago. FedEx Field will be Lincoln Financial Field South. But what about owner Dan Snyder? Won’t he force changes if Spurrier isn’t willing to make them?

A: From what we’re hearing, no. Management wants change on the staff badly, but Snyder has indicated internally that he won’t blow the whole thing up if Spurrier balks at dismissals. That, too, could change, especially if Washington gets thrashed by the Eagles. Even sources close to Snyder are unwilling to speak in absolutes, given his impetuous past. It could get interesting if Spurrier resists any type of staffing change.

Q: What about the personnel department? Spurrier talked about “restructuring.” Does he want more control over that?

A: It’s difficult to get that impression. There’s an unquestioned divide between Spurrier and vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato, but Cerrato is too close to the owner to be jettisoned, and Spurrier, at day’s end, isn’t looking to pick his own players. Might he push for a hire on the personnel side? We’re not sure who he would turn to. It’s a guarantee Tampa Bay personnel director Tim Ruskell, an old friend of Spurrier’s, wouldn’t come to Washington and play second banana to Cerrato. In all likelihood, things will be status quo in personnel.

Q: So what does this all mean? Will switching a couple of assistants make that big a difference?

A: Probably not. A veteran defensive coordinator might help, but it’ll take at least a few games for players to get comfortable. Offensive linemen haven’t had any problem with Helton and frankly haven’t played poorly in the second half of the season. Washington won’t start winning if Spurrier doesn’t make substantial personal changes — he must win over players and run a consistent, productive offense.

Q: Of course, he could be headed off for sunny South Beach. What’s up with the ESPN report about the Dolphins trying to pry him from Washington?

A: There were indications last night that Miami was interested, but interest on one side only gets you so far. The most important factor seems to be that Snyder hasn’t appeared interested in any coaches besides Spurrier. Not that the owner couldn’t run through his options, but he’s been bracing for weeks now to hang on to Spurrier. It’s amazing, though, that a coach whose job status has been questioned for months suddenly would be a candidate on a team that still could make the playoffs.

Q: What about the new Soldier Field? What did you think of the “Mistake by the Lake?”

A: From the outside, it is jarring to see a contemporary steel structure plopped inside the old colonnade — which, by the way, was a trip to walk through with the wind blowing 40 mph. It’s certainly not the best way to do it. Once inside, though, it’s a sharp looking facility. And the fans — wow. The place was packed. The support far outshone the suspect teams that played there.

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