- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

The Redskins headed into another offseason of mad maneuvering yesterday. Players and coaches will come and go — as always — and when the makeover is complete, the organization will pronounce itself much improved. That’s the drill, isn’t it? Keep changing the faces, keep fostering the illusion that you’re building something … and then miss the playoffs again.

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait for the Redskins to unveil their latest Master Plan. Steve Spurrier didn’t reveal too many details at his year-end news conference, but he did let it slip that the team would be on the lookout for “a big-time starting tailback [and] tight end.” That, obviously, was This Year’s Lesson for the Ball Coach. Last year he learned he couldn’t just truck in a bunch of Florida Gators and win in the NFL, and this year he learned his offense could really use a credible running back and tight end.

Of course, he already had those things when he took over the club in January 2002. But someone convinced him — or maybe he came up with the idea himself — that he didn’t need Stephen Davis and Stephen Alexander.

We can only guess what next year’s lesson will be for Spurrier. That is, if there is a next year. For weeks now, his body language has practically shouted, “I don’t want to be here.” He’s had the beaten-down look of a 12-20 coach, one who doesn’t even seem to know what the questions are, never mind the answers. It isn’t hard to understand why the Redskins couldn’t pull out of their death spiral this season, not with a leader so singularly uninspiring.

Dan Snyder has declared his intention to “absolutely” retain Spurrier, but there are few absolutes in Dan the Man’s world. No one would be surprised if the Ball Coach went on vacation this week and never came back — by mutual agreement. (I, personally, would be willing to forward his mail.)

The Redskins, after all, are much further from being contenders than they were when he arrived two years ago. There’s almost nothing they do well, few areas in which they outperformed their opponents this season. They scored fewer points, converted fewer third downs, had less time of possession, averaged fewer yards per play, gained fewer rushing yards (and fewer passing yards), completed a lower percentage of their passes, had a worse passer rating, gave up more sacks, committed more penalties for more yards, punted the ball worse and averaged fewer yards per punt return.

On the plus side, they did take care of the ball a little better (plus-2 turnover differential) than the opposition, run back kickoffs a little farther and boot field goals more reliably.

In other words, not only are they still rebuilding, they haven’t poured much of the foundation. This isn’t a team that figures to turn it around quickly. This is a team that still has a ways to go.

But something tells me the Redskins will spend the offseason reminding everybody they were “the last club to beat the Patriots” — or some such nonsense. Indeed, as the clock ran out on their season Saturday night, I began jotting down some feel-good titles for their “highlight” film. My favorites:

• “2003: The Drive for Five [Wins]”

• “Rockin’ with Cartwright”

• “Best Team in the NFC East — in September”

• “80,500 People [the Redskins’ average home attendance] Can’t Be Wrong”

• “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single False Start”

• “Gardner to Morton: Passing Combo of the Future”

• “At Least We’re Not the Cardinals”

The December losses to the Cowboys (27-0) and Eagles (31-7) — at FedEx Field — might be the most dispiriting thing about the season. Those are the two teams the Redskins have to catch in the NFC East, and right now they’re a couple of cuts below them, at least. The Giants, with a new coach and better health, will likely be back in the hunt next year, too. That means the Snydermen will be fighting to stay out of the basement (though the owner, no doubt, will be promising the moon and the stars).

There’s a great line at the end of “The Third Man” that kind of applies to the Redskins — and their perpetual state of upheaval. Orson Welles, as Harry Lime, says: “In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Yes, a little creative tension, a little uncertainty, can be beneficial to an enterprise, but the Redskins are clearly overdoing it. I don’t think Dan Snyder is painting any Sistine Chapel; I think he’s putting together the world’s most expensive cuckoo clock.

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