- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Consultants. Cuts. Controversial castoffs. Sacks. Losses. Bickering. Bewilderment.

Are we having fun yet? Only halfway through Steve Spurrier’s second season, the Washington Redskins are done. An offseason of high-profile acquisitions and a 3-1 start have given way to lousy play and turmoil. It appears only a matter of time before Spurrier departs.

If God were merciful, he would bring the flood to Redskin Park, wash the place away and start from scratch. Heck, everyone would be so busy sniping at each other they barely would notice. Of course, there would be cap considerations.

To soothe Redskins fans’ troubled souls (or at least answer a few irate questions), the Monday Morning Quarterback makes an annual midseason appearance. Accompanying are few uplifting messages: Sunday afternoons are great for raking, Super Bowl tickets are too expensive anyway and Sam Adams is on sale at Safeway.

Q: We’ve been waiting for a playoff contender for so long. Everything looked good. Now we feel like piddling in our own Corn Flakes. What the heck happened?

A: Nothing unexpected. Opposing defenses got some tape on how to stop Spurrier’s offense. The Redskins couldn’t get away with a marginal defensive line. A young quarterback sank back to earth. A coach with lousy leadership skills lost his players. An impatient owner kept turning up the heat. And a cast of new faces (some might say a band of mercenaries) splintered when things got tough.

Q: Hmmm. The Redskins’ version of Einstein’s equation. But we still don’t get it. What happened to Spurrier being such a good coach? What happened to all that talent?

A: A lot of it had to do with projections of best-case scenarios — that timeless tradition in sports. Previously good coaches are expected to be as good or better. Previously good players are expected to do the same. The Redskins, once again, were all-world on paper — and reality turned out to be a world of hurt.

Q: Is there any hope?

A: Frankly, not much. After showing signs of picking up the NFL, Spurrier is hunkering down and seems increasingly unlikely to adjust his methods. And you know what? Even if he does, we’ve been down that road — and it was a dead end. He has had trouble dealing with management, players and even some of his hand-picked assistant coaches. Spurrier is driving a three-wheeled Winnebago with no gas through a minefield. It’s hard to find anyone at Redskin Park who really believes he will steer this careening mess to safety.

Q: Best-case scenario — what can he do to get this team back on track?

A: Relinquish all ego. Look at the tape and figure out how to attack the way defenses are playing. Like he said, it’s just a blitz. Find an assistant head coach who can give the fiery speeches. Seek out assistants and key players and smooth over their frustrations. A coach needs to run his team like he’s the general of an army — he can’t be in touch with every single soldier, but he can forge trusting relationships with people who have the respect of those under them, and then bonds build in pyramid fashion.

Q: When will that happen?

A: Right about the time Marty Schottenheimer tells Snyder not to worry about that last paycheck. And when monkeys fly out of his …

Q: All right, all right. So who’s to blame, Spurrier or Snyder?

A: Tough call. Both share in this ordeal, and it’s easy to argue that Snyder got Spurrier all the players he needed and the coach simply botched the job. But Snyder deserves the brunt of blame. Responsibility goes to the top in any organization. Snyder flushed Schottenheimer after an 8-8 season to hire Spurrier to the NFL’s richest coaching contract. Spurrier has been outmatched, and Snyder hasn’t done him any favors by keeping the heat on. The consultants flap was a joke. The aggressive in-season moves have been worthless. Communication in this organization is poor. And there is no atmosphere of trust and focus.

Q: OK, we’ve got glasses, binoculars and a telescope. How far on the horizon do we have to look for hope?

A: If you think this is bleak, hold on. Not only will there be the messy issue of Spurrier’s ouster and the search for the next coach, but the Redskins pushed the salary cap to tailor this team to his tastes. They will be limited in pursuit of difference-making players for a new coach, who will need time to adjust himself. It could be 2005 before the Redskins have a legitimate chance at the playoffs — and by then they will be shedding cornerstone players like LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels to navigate the cap.

Q: Fine, forget winning. Will the torrent of controversy at least slacken in the season’s second half?

A: We’re thinking things might cool off a bit. There’s an interesting confluence in Washington right now where the team isn’t very good but people remain intensely interested. Most bad teams, by nature, are dull. We have a feeling the Redskins will be soon. Ironically, a win or two in the next few weeks could set them up for another Chernobyl-style meltdown in the home stretch.

Q: Well, somebody’s got to be next. Who’s Snyder’s $6 million man?

A: The way we see it, Spurrier was Snyder’s $5 million-a-year Dave Campo. The owner won’t get another high-profile coach to come in so totally stripped of authority. Snyder’s next move will be to an established name that requires a more hands-off style — someone along the lines of Jimmy Johnson. Snyder will use Bill Parcells’ success in Dallas with Jerry Jones as an example of how a union of such egos can work.

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