- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

It’s just not working.

By “it,” I mean the Great Steve Spurrier Experiment. It was a swell idea — one of Dan Snyder’s best — to hire Spurrier, to find out if his Fun ‘n’ Gun follies would transfer from college ball to the pros, but the results so far have been less than encouraging. Nearly halfway through his second season with the Redskins, the Ball Coach has a 10-13 record, and his team is heading south, not north. Three straight losses have the club in a crisis mode going into a High Noon game at Dallas two weeks hence.

Worse, Spurrier doesn’t seem able to fix what’s broken. That’s what football coaches spend much of their time doing — plugging leaks in the offensive line, papering over holes in the secondary, repairing damaged psyches. Spurrier, poor fellow, appears utterly confounded by his team’s travails … and unequipped to deal with them.

He’s fallen back on the “we have to do a better job coaching” line so many times that you wonder if he and his staff are capable of doing a better job coaching. You wonder if this is as good as they can “coach ‘em up.”

Patrick Ramsey’s on-the-job training is one thing; second-year quarterbacks will have their ups and downs. But how do you explain the shaky play of the offensive line, comprised as it is by veteran guys? The line shouldn’t be having this many breakdowns, not with personnel like Chris Samuels, Jon Jansen and Randy Thomas. It must be the Fun ‘n’ Gun’s cavalier approach: Send out four or five receivers and figure out the blocking later.

Put it this way: When the first question asked of your quarterback after every game is “Where does it hurt?” you’ve got a serious problem. But Spurrier has yet to solve it, even though it surfaced in Week1.

Now Snyder has a bye week to address the club’s various issues. A scary prospect, that. It’s at times like these that he brings in a consultant — such as defensive sage Bill Arnsparger a few years back — or perhaps fires an assistant coach. The moves rarely change anything, but they do make the owner look involved, hands-on and all that good stuff.

The last time Snyder got involved, two weeks ago, he signed former Vikings tight end Byron Chamberlain. I’m still waiting for someone to explain that one to me. For one thing, Spurrier isn’t much for tight ends. For another, if the Redskins are going to add a tight end, it would be nice if he was able to block — given their shortcomings in that area. But from what we’ve seen so far, Chamberlain is basically a receiver type.

What the offense could really use is a tight end of the Don Warren variety, the kind who can waylay blitzing linebackers and catch the occasional pass. But then the offense wouldn’t be the Fun ‘n’ Gun any more. It would be some other kind of offense, some other coach’s offense.

Which brings us to Part 2 of this discussion. More and more I’m convinced that Steve Spurrier ain’t gonna make it in the NFL — not because he’s a bad coach, necessarily, but because he can’t be Steve Spurrier and be successful, can’t do the things that earned him such idolatry in college. The defensive players are too much faster in the pros. The pass rush arrives too quickly.

The No.1 priority of any NFL offense is — or should be — giving your quarterback enough time to throw. The Fun ‘n’ Gun, however, is predicated on flooding the secondary with receivers, which strips away some of your pass protection. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a well-guarded QB and a wide-open attack. You have to make a choice.

For Spurrier to have any chance of flourishing in the pros, he would have to reinvent himself — and his offense. And frankly, I don’t think his heart is in it. There have been times the past two seasons when he has scaled things back, tried to play it more conservative, and you could tell it was killing him. He’s a Southern boy from Tennessee, for goodness sakes; what does he want with restrictor-plate racing?

But look at the so-called offensive geniuses in the NFL — and what their teams do. Jon Gruden, for instance. Does he air it out all the time? Heck no. He beat the Redskins last week with a bunch of naked bootlegs and flips to his tight end. He found a weakness, in other words, and he exploited it. He also keeps defenses off Brad Johnson’s back; in six games, Johnson has been sacked just three times. This is how you win in the pros.

In college ball you can be a little more Out There. In college ball you can indulge your whims, your fantasies, your ego. And you can get away with it lots of times — especially if you’re at a factory like the University of Florida — because your team is so far superior to the opposition. In the Any Given Sunday League, the gaps between clubs are much smaller.

After the Buffalo embarrassment Sunday — and again at his news conference yesterday — Spurrier looked completely wrung out, as if he were the one defenses have been sacking. The words of Admiral James Stockdale came to mind: “Who am I? Why am I here?”

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