- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Steve Spurrier was so predictable, even I could read him at the end. And if a sportswriter could, how hard could it have been for opposing defensive coordinators?

Yup, I just knew his news conference Sunday would be the last time we heard from him, even though he continued to talk about next season and the “changes” that needed to be made. Spurrier was the emptiest warmup suit Ive ever come across in the NFL; I cant think of a single thing to recommend him.

So it surprised me not at all to learn he had slinked back to Florida and then announced he was quitting the Redskins. I mean, even Saddam Hussein stuck around to face the music.

A football team tends to be a mirror of its coach. That certainly seems to be the case here. The coach who phoned in his resignation presided over a club that phoned in the last three weeks of the season. The Redskins have rarely looked worse than in their losses home losses to the Cowboys and Eagles. They were outscored 58-7 in those games and, frankly, it didnt even seem that close.

Spurrier attributed the lame efforts to the losses piling up and the team just getting beaten down, but 58-7? Talk about heartless. After all, plenty of other clubs had nothing to play for in the final week and refused to roll over. Consider:

The Lions upset the Rams, depriving them of the home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

The Cardinals rallied in the closing minutes to knock the Vikings out of the playoffs.

The Browns, on the road, dashed the Bengals postseason hopes.

The Saints beat the playoff-bound Cowboys.

The Steelers got their backs up and kept Jamal Lewis from breaking the season rushing record.

The Texans nearly cost the Colts the division title and a first-round bye.

And the Redskins, Steve Spurriers Redskins, got waxed by Philly 31-7.

The folks at Redskin Park like to dwell on how many close games the team lost this season. But lets inspect the five games the Redskins managed to win:

The Jets and Falcons were missing their starting quarterbacks.

The Patriots were without about half their regulars.

The Seahawks were a step away from a turn-out-the-lights 21-3 lead (at which point Laveranues Coles forced a fumble/touchback on an interception return, one of the flukier flukes youre likely to see).

The Giants, when the Redskins played them in early December, were probably the worst team in the league.

There you have it, folks. There are your five Redskins wins.

I, of course, was among the many who applauded the Spurrier hire two years ago. He seemed like the anti-Schottenheimer, an offensive-minded coach who was willing to try almost anything an ideas guy. That might be the biggest shock of all about the past two seasons. Not only did Spurrier fall woefully short as a head coach, he wasnt even a very good offensive coordinator. He never grasped the importance of the running back or tight end positions, never had much of a feel for the rhythms of a game. Lots of times, there didnt appear to be much logic to how he pitched it around; when he had an itch, he passed, regardless of the circumstances.

The Ball Coach always said he never made it big as an NFL quarterback because he didnt have a strong enough arm. But it might very well be that he didnt make it as an NFL quarterback for the same reason he went 12-20 as an NFL coach: Because pro ball befuddled him the complexity of it, the speed of it, maybe even the competitiveness of it. Players and coaches who win year in and year out arent just supremely talented, theyre insanely committed. Joe Gibbs, successful as he was, was a twitching mess when he stepped down as coach of the Redskins, his body worn down by a dozen years of 20-hour days. Spurrier never seemed inclined to take it that far, which says something about his mental health but also something about his want-to, as coaches like to call it.

Ive heard Spurrier described as “stubborn” a million times the past two years. But to me, his problems ran much deeper than that. The Ball Coach, its clear, never imagined for a second that what had worked at Florida wouldnt work with the Redskins. As a result, he never had a Plan B (never mind a Plan C or a Plan D). He just couldnt adjust to passes falling incomplete, to his quarterbacks getting crunched, to losing. It was totally foreign to his coaching experience.

Probably the worst thing Spurrier did, though, was suggest that he might not fulfill his five-year contract, that after three years that is, after next season he would decide whether he wanted to continue. What a lamebrain move that was. He was, in essence, undercutting his own authority, making himself a lame duck if he came back in 2004. The players knew if they dogged it one more year, hed be gone. (And who knows? if they dogged it badly enough at the end of this year, he might be convinced to leave early which he did.)

What an organization this is especially in comparison to the one just up the road in Baltimore. Not long after signing Spurrier, if memory serves, Dan Snyder said in a magazine interview, with typical arrogance, “What do I have to learn from Art Modell?” Well, quite a bit, as it turns out. The Ravens right now have, for my money, the offensive player of the year (Jamal Lewis), the defensive player of the year (Ray Lewis), the defensive rookie of the year (Terrell Suggs) and more Pro Bowlers than any other club (eight). Theyre also, from what I read, in the playoffs.

The Redskins, meanwhile, are 5-11 only four teams finished below them and are interviewing coaching candidates again. With any luck, theyll come up with somebody better than the last guy. But with Snyder, you can never be sure. Every time you say to yourself, “Things cant possibly get any worse for the Redskins,” they somehow do.


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