- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Steve Spurrier resigned as coach of the Washington Redskins yesterday, beaten down by two seasons of losing and turmoil.

Hired amid fanfare and high expectations in January 2002, Spurrier exited the organization a shell of the wisecracking know-it-all he once was. He plans to take a year off from coaching after going 12-20, including 2-10 in NFC East competition, in two seasons with the Redskins.

“All the losses really grind you down,” Spurrier said in a phone interview from Florida. “Right now, I probably need a year off. If some of my passion returns later, I’ll worry about [other jobs] at that time.”

Washington moved quickly to assemble a list of possible replacements. The club plans to interview former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel, former Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green and Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes over the next two weeks.

Green and Rhodes are black, and interviews with either would satisfy a National Football League rule that says clubs must interview at least one minority candidate.

Spurrier walked away from the remaining three years on a five-year $25 million deal that made him the NFL’s highest-paid coach. The Redskins, which still are paying former coach Marty Schottenheimer after firing him in January 2002, said they will pay Spurrier only a few months’ living expenses and a relatively small consulting fee.

However, neither the team nor agent Jimmy Sexton, whom Spurrier contacted Monday to review his contract and negotiate his exit, revealed exact terms of the settlement.

Because Spurrier resigned, he technically remains Redskins property for the remaining three years on his contract. If another NFL club wanted to hire Spurrier, it would owe the Redskins compensation, probably in the form of draft picks.

Spurrier’s tenure in Washington represented a hard fall for a coach who dominated the college game. He went 122-27-1 with a national title in 12 seasons at the University of Florida, but he struggled to adapt his Fun ‘n’ Gun offense to the NFL and play the political games that are prevalent at that level.

In both seasons, Spurrier lost the confidence of his players through erratic decision-making and uninspiring leadership. He was a marked contrast to Schottenheimer, a coach steeped in discipline and attention to detail, and Spurrier struggled to connect with his players and win their respect.

The just-completed season also revealed fractures in Spurrier’s relationship with the vice president of football operations, Vinny Cerrato. In the preseason, owner Dan Snyder sided with Mr. Cerrato and cut quarterback Danny Wuerffel, the player closest to Spurrier. During the year, Spurrier and his staff refused to play several high-profile pickups by the personnel department. And on Sunday, Spurrier criticized some of those signings.

Several NFL executives said yesterday that Washington might have been the worst organization in the league for Spurrier to have joined. They cited Spurrier’s naivete and nonconfrontational style and the atmosphere of mistrust that has grown in recent years as Mr. Snyder made changes in front-office management.

Spurrier, though, refused to blame management or criticize the performance of his players yesterday.

“I have no excuses,” he said. “I’m not making any excuses. Maybe it’s just time to let somebody else take a crack at it.”

In a statement released by the team, Spurrier thanked Mr. Snyder for the chance to coach the team and apologized to Redskins fans for not being more successful.

Having Mr. Snyder and Mr. Cerrato atop the club’s hierarchy now might impede Washington’s search for Spurrier’s replacement, several NFL executives said. The duo is viewed with skepticism in league circles, and some executives speculated that Washington would need to overpay a candidate if he has the option to coach elsewhere.

Mr. Snyder, however, may have won some points with his handling of Spurrier over the past few weeks. Despite the coach’s obvious failings, Mr. Snyder remained supportive and did not try to force Spurrier’s hand. And despite the firm belief among management that Spurrier needed to make changes on his staff of assistant coaches, Mr. Snyder did not try to force firings.

“I have accepted Steve’s resignation with much regret, but respect his decision,” Mr. Snyder said in a statement.

Mr. Snyder and some club officials said they were caught off guard by Spurrier’s resignation. Although it was clear Spurrier wasn’t enjoying himself, they were functioning on the premise that he would take some time off, consider his situation and return with a fresh attitude.

Other team officials, though, sensed the end was near.

“I just looked at him and saw his body language,” said the vice president of football operations, Pepper Rodgers, who played a key role in bringing Spurrier to the team two years ago. “It was his way of saying, ‘I’m not interested anymore.’”

Given Mr. Snyder’s expectation that Spurrier would return, the owner didn’t begin formalizing a list of prospective replacements until yesterday.

Embattled defensive coordinator George Edwards and the rest of Spurrier’s assistants, save quarterbacks coach Noah Brindise, have expiring contracts and are unlikely to be retained by an incoming coach. Brindise has one year left on his deal but probably will be let go.

Spurrier plans to spend time in the Washington area over the next few months while his son, Scott, finishes up at Loudoun County High School.

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