The Redskins and Spurrier: What Went Wrong

When Steve Spurrier was hired by the Redskins two years ago, sources close to him say he was promised that Washington would then hire either Bobby Beathard or Tim Ruskell to be the general manager. That never happened. And shortly after that came the beginning of the end.

The Redskins deny this is the case, but that hardly matters. Spurrier believes this to be so and he soon realized he was in a bad marriage, one his side claims was built on deception. Others around the league know this.

Which is why no one in the league was surprised by Tuesday's events. Spurrier resigned from the Redskins with three years and $15 million left on his contract. It's a stunning move, yet it isn't. And it should send notice to others that this job is not desirable. Among the names likely to be mentioned as the next coach: Dennis Green, Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Lovie Smith and maybe even Jimmy Johnson.

``It's a bad job,'' one rival GM said. ``Here's a guy who walked away from $15 million not to work there. He was sick and tired of all the bull----. The only guys [owner Dan Snyder] can get is someone who has no alternatives or if he overpays them by a million or two dollars. . . . Dennis will want the job because he might not get the other jobs. He's a good coach, but he's had a number of off-the-field issues and had a power play in Minnesota. The owner and [front office] might be overmatched with him.''

By the way, this GM wasn't surprised at Tuesday's actions. No one in the league was. They saw it coming because Spurrier had been unhappy for a while and it was reflected in his coaching. He's not a bad man at all. In many ways others found him very honorable. He just wasn't getting it done here, not at 12-20.

Spurrier, we've been told, had planned to talk with owner Dan Snyder about either firing Vinny Cerrato or having him demoted. But Spurrier never had that discussion with Snyder, perhaps deciding it wasn't worth it. Too many other problems remained.

The coaches didn't like certain players who were signed, like Darrell Russell. Despite what you might read elsewhere, the coaches privately were adamently opposed to that move. Bank on that. And one coach called the collection of defensive linemen, save for Renaldo Wynn, as a bunch of sh--heads. Fill in the blanks yourself.

The front office undermined Spurrier at several turns, notably with Kenny Watson and Danny Wuerffel. Then there was that whole consultants thing, creating a nasty taste that never left. There was massive distrust in the building and that led to a culture of bitterness.

But don't just blame the front office. In the right setup Spurrier could probably win, but he has to show more of a willingness to adapt to the NFL, or learn more, than he did in Washington.

Spurrier first revealed a major flaw in his opening press conference two years ago when he admitted he knew nothing about his new players. That's fine, except he should have watched some film or talked to friends in the industry to have some idea if he could win with this bunch. Or play his Fun 'n' Gun style with them.

But Spurrier didn't do that. Thus started a trend of not paying attention to every little detail, something that NFL coaches must do. The talent is spread too evenly to do otherwise.

One complaint among some on his staff was that Spurrier didn't act like a head coach. A key veteran said he wanted to meet with Spurrier in his office one day to smooth out some differences. But Spurrier wanted to avoid confrontation so suggested they just talk on the field after practice.

I also remember one training camp practice in which the first-team defense worked against the scout team offense. Where was Spurrier? Standing off to the side showing kicker John Hall and punter Bryan Barker how he could bounce a ball and catch it behind his back. Those things don't look good when you don't win. During his first season, while the special teams practiced one day in training camp, Spurrier wandered over and chatted with several beat reporters. Again, that's notable when you don't win.

One coach told me that he would not have returned had Spurrier remained in charge. This coach also ripped the organization for many personnel moves and the general atmosphere at Redskins Park. But the way Spurrier coached ate at him.

``Because he was so self-centered,'' said this coach, ``and didn't want anyone to take any credit. He didn't have a plan. All he wanted to do is be the Ball Coach. It takes more than just calling plays to win a game.''

And it was very evident that players craved some order in their final trip to Redskins Park this season. On Sunday, numerous players said they wanted more discipline and wanted the days of ringing cell phones in meetings, among other things, to end. Never mind that some of the players talking weren't known as strict disciplinarians.

``I can understand when people are frustrated that you have to look for something to work on,'' safety Matt Bowen said. ``If some guys think we need to be more disciplined and they're team leaders, then we do have to be more disciplined.''

Spurrier wasn't going to provide that. Not in year three of his program.

``Maybe it just wasn't meant for him to be with the Washington Redskins,'' receiver Darnerien McCants said of Spurrier.

Maybe not. But it's too bad. When Spurrier came he was supposed to lead the NFL into a new age with his offense. Don't forget, many respected people like former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf thought he would succeed. At the time Wolf said Spurrier is the one coach he always wished he could have hired.

``There was definitely a lot of optimism,'' McCants said. ``Everyone wanted to see if the Fun 'n' Gun could work in the NFL. But one mistake is that he changed more than he should have.''

He also looked bad on occasion or even disinterested. He offered no hope that the franchise could be turned around next season. He talked one week about needing to be more balanced and the next week about returning to his pass-happy roots.

I also didn't like that he didn't notify his assistants of Tuesday's move. One report said he did, but don't believe it: I was talking on the phone with one assistant when he heard the news from another friend in the league. I also know another coach found out through a different reporter.

``I don't know what to say,'' Redskins safety Matt Bowen said. ``It's pretty wild the whole way it went down. A lot of guys had a lot of questions going into the offseason about what was going to happen. We just wanted to know for sure. Now we do.

``I think a lot of guys are frustrated. But it has yet to be determined [if this is a good move]. No matter what coaches we have here, it all depends on how we play. That's the bottom line. I guess we'll answer that after next season.''

It must be said that not everyone was for this move. McCants liked Spurrier because he gave him a chance and used him a lot. A source close to corner Champ Bailey says this clinches Bailey's desire to leave. But that could stem as much from going through more change as anything.

And maybe Spurrier will someday win in the NFL, should he choose to remain at this level. I'd tell him to return to college; there's nothing wrong with succeeding at that level. It's where he belonged. But Washington isn't where he belonged. This marriage was doomed from the start -- it's what one scout told me when he was first hired.

``It'll last two years,'' said the scout, who knew Spurrier and knew the Redskins well.

He was right. I wonder if they'll say the same thing about the next coach. As much blame as Spurrier must take for this mess, perhaps the real problems remain.


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