- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Dan Snyder, exalted ruler of the Redskins, has been uncharacteristically quiet of late. Perhaps after watching his team sink to 5-10 this season, he’s lapsed into a catatonic state. I mean, it’s been a good month since he signed a player out of the NFL’s halfway house (Byron Chamberlain, Darrell Russell, Kenyatta Jones), twice as long since he brought in any consultants. Doesn’t the man care anymore?

Actually, I have a theory about why Snyder has been so well behaved, why he continues to stand behind Steve Spurrier through thin and thinner. It’s not because he feels any great kinship with the guy, any spiritual connection. It’s because he’s already thinking about the next coach he’s going to hire, somewhere down the line. And he doesn’t want to scare off any potential candidates by being impatient with Spurrier (as he was with Norv Turner and Marty Schottenheimer).

This time, the theory goes, Snyder will be overly patient with his coach, positively Job-like. That way, when he interviews Spurrier’s successor at some future date, he can say, “See? I gave the Ball Coach every opportunity to succeed, stuck with him even when the club regressed in his second season. And I’ll do the same for you. I’m a different owner than I was the first few years. I realize now that good things take time.”

And upon hearing that, some other poor sucker will surely sign on the dotted line.

Maybe I’m reading too much into Snyder’s silence. Maybe he just doesn’t want to be on the hook for $15million if he fires Spurrier (and Steve decides to go golfin’ instead of taking another job). What’s ironic is that, for once, Dan the Man has every reason to get rid of his coach — and yet he might not (not this season, at least).

The case against Spurrier couldn’t be much stronger. He’s followed a disappointing 7-9 first year with an abysmal second year. The second year is when a coach should begin to show some progress — that is, if he’s ever going to show some progress. George Allen went from 9-4-1 his first year to the Super Bowl his second. Jack Pardee went from 8-8 to 10-6. Joe Gibbs went from 8-8 to an NFL championship. Norv Turner went from 3-13 to 6-10 (to 9-7). That’s right, every Redskins coach of any duration since 1971 has put an improved product on the field in Year 2.

Except for Steve Spurrier.

There are few examples in recent history of a coach posting a losing record in his first season, an even worse record in his second season — and going on to glory.

Consider Joe Bugel in Arizona (5-11 in ‘90, 4-12 in ‘91 … and 4-12 again in ‘92).

Or Dave Shula in Cincinnati (5-11 in ‘92, 3-13 in ‘93 … and a 3-13 replay in ‘94).

Or Chuck Knox with the Rams (6-10 in ‘92, 5-11 in ‘93 … and 4-12 in ‘94).

Or Rich Kotite with the Jets (3-13 in ‘95, 1-15 in ‘96 … and see ya later).

Coaches who begin badly rarely turn it around. Tom Flores couldn’t do it in Seattle (following a 2-14 season with two 6-10s before he was axed). Sam Wyche couldn’t do it in Tampa Bay (5-11, 5-11, 6-10, 7-9). Mike Ditka couldn’t do it in New Orleans (6-10, 6-10, 3-13). And all three of them, I’ll just remind you, had previously taken a club to the Super Bowl (with Flores and Ditka winning).

If you’re looking for a best-case scenario, something to give you hope, there’s always Dick Vermeil. Vermeil went 5-11 in his first year with the Rams in ‘97, 4-12 in his second year and won it all in his third year. He’s the only coach in the past 20 years — and possibly longer — who started out the way Spurrier has and ended up clutching the Lombardi Trophy.

Then there’s Wayne Fontes. He went 7-9 and 6-10 in his first two full seasons in Detroit (‘89-90) — and then led the Lions to the NFC Championship game. Vince Tobin had a less spectacular recovery in Arizona, going 7-9 in ‘96 and 4-12 in ‘97 before guiding the Cardinals to their first playoff berth in 16 years. But Snyder, from what I gather, isn’t looking for a Wayne Fontes/Vince Tobin-type accomplishment. He wants the whole enchilada.

Not to spoil anyone’s Christmas, but I don’t think Spurrier’s situation has much in common with Vermeil’s. Vermeil had already been to the Super Bowl with the Eagles when he took over the Rams — and his roster in St. Louis included the likes of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. The Ball Coach is still trying to figure the NFL out after 15 years at the college level. And his starting running back, if I’m not mistaken, couldn’t even make it as Faulk’s understudy.

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