- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier hopes handing play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson frees him for increased involvement with the whole team.

Such an adjustment was portrayed as happening during the offseason, and in some modest ways Spurrier did broaden his focus. But last night the coach supported speculation made by another team official earlier in the day — that Sunday’s shift in play-calling could lead to a more significant role for Spurrier.

“I hope so,” Spurrier said. “I’ve been doing that. I’ve been going to special teams meetings most of the year. But then I shifted back to [quarterback Patrick Ramsey] a lot during the open date and the week of the Dallas game. But I was able to stand closer to [defensive coordinator] George Edwards during the game last week, things of that nature.

“I’m not going to interfere with what those guys do too much, but hopefully [I will] do a little bit better as an overall coach.”

Spurrier’s focus during his first NFL season was narrow — play-calling, quarterbacks and wide receivers. Plans for a more overarching role were advertised in the closing weeks of the season, but the changes were minimal. When it came to defense, special teams and personnel, Spurrier’s input was hard to detect.

Now, though, his tenure in Washington could hinge on re-establishing his identity as Redskins coach. Spurrier’s relationship with many players fractured and his control over the team eroded as the Redskins endured a four-game losing streak. When Jackson asked him for play-calling duties, Spurrier was ready to try something dramatic.

The move succeeded on many levels. With Jackson utilizing a game plan that protected Ramsey, established short gains, progressed to deep shots and rarely called for audibles, Washington generated 379 yards and beat the Seahawks 27-20. Meanwhile, Spurrier received widespread praise within the organization for shelving his ego and doing what he thought was best for the team.

And there could be more upside, one club official said. Even if Spurrier doesn’t have much more input on defense or special teams, just the appearance would win players’ respect. Also, some separation between Spurrier and Ramsey could ease the pressure on the young quarterback to be perfect all the time.

Neither Spurrier nor Ramsey, though, supported the latter point. Spurrier said quarterbacks coach Noah Brindise already spends more time with Ramsey than he does, while Ramsey said he puts more pressure on himself than any coach could.

“Regardless of who’s calling the plays, I want to execute them perfectly,” Ramsey said.

But not everyone believes the shift in play-calling was for the best. One high-ranking official for another NFL club said the decision smacked of desperation, and he questioned whether it makes sense for Spurrier to transition to a different style of coaching.

The NFL’s best-known coaches all have well-known areas of expertise, the official for the opposing club said. Tampa Bay’s Jon Gruden and St. Louis’ Mike Martz are known as offensive architects, Dallas’ Bill Parcells is a motivator and Kansas City’s Dick Vermeil is a master of organization.

Spurrier was given a five-year, $25 million contract to be an offensive genius, the official said. Spurrier’s strength was to keep defensive coordinators off-balance on a play-to-play basis. It’s unlikely Spurrier can become a different kind of coach, and he probably wouldn’t be worth $25 million as another type of coach.

In other words, if Spurrier isn’t getting paid to call his ball plays, what’s he getting paid $25 million to do?

“That’s a good point,” Spurrier said with a laugh. “But again, we were struggling. This is still our offense. This is still the offense we’ve put in.”

With that in mind, several Redskins officials argued yesterday that little has changed. Spurrier remains a key figure in game-planning during the week, and he reassumed play-calling duties at crucial points Sunday. Also cited was the fact that Jackson opened the Oct.19 game at Buffalo calling plays.

But there were key differences in the Buffalo game, team sources said. Jackson did not call plays all game. Spurrier was the point man on that week’s game plan. Jackson wasn’t told he would call plays until late in the week. Now Jackson spearheads the game plan and runs the offense during practice, in addition to calling the bulk of plays.

In coming weeks, the Redskins’ fortunes and Spurrier’s actions will determine whether handing off play-calling was a step toward becoming a successful NFL coach or a desperate move that coincided with Washington momentarily playing well again.

Note — The Washington Redskins’ win Sunday over Seattle will be featured on the NFL Network tonight as its “Game of the Week.” The 60-minute program, beginning at 9, will review the game in deep, strategic detail.

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