Spurrier learns, gives hope

When the Redskins hired Steve Spurrier, I talked with several beat writers from the University of Florida who issued the same warning: don't underestimate Spurrier.

With all he had done, there's no way I'd let that happen. But I saw lots of evidence that, when weighed together, caused me to lower my opinion of him.

In training camp, I remembered a time when the Redskins practiced special teams . Spurrier stood on the sideline chatting with a few reporters.

It made me wonder: was this good or bad? Certainly, as a reporter, any chance to talk informally with the head coach is welcomed. But shouldn't Spurrier have been on the field with the special teams, at least appearing interested in what they were doing? We know now what he should have been doing.

Later, a couple days before the preseason finale, Spurrier didn't realize that one of his offensive players had not yet appeared in a game. ''He hasn't played,'' Spurrier said. ''How come?'' Well, you're the coach you tell us.

But he couldn't. Nor could he say much about players they had drafted. And he thought Justin Skaggs could be a punt returner when he'd NEVER returned a punt before in his life, even in practice.

Head coaches should know such things and Spurrier, at times, acted like anything but a head coach. In a league where the talent is spread out, it's the little things that win. And Spurrier had not yet mastered those details. It's why a few coaches on his staff wonder if he ever will.

But there's hope. And it starts with Spurrier and what he learned during his 16-game exhibition season.

Spurrier wasn't fooled by the two straight wins to close the season. It makes the record look better, but Spurrier correctly knows they must improve greatly to be in a different spot next year. There's nothing he said that was better this season than when he chastised his team for silly mistakes in the Dallas win, saying ''championship teams don't do that.''

That alone provides hope for the future. Here's a guy whose expectations are high, which they must be for a team to win a title.

Spurrier sat back, watched and learned this season. He also appeared to understand that he must change, too, which is why he handed over the offensive coordinator title to Hue Jackson. Spurrier will still call the plays, but Jackson's attention to detail throughout the week will free Spurrier to at least pop in on defensive and special teams meetings.

He doesn't need to act like an expert in either area, but he does need to show interest, which players greatly appreciate. 

Spurrier learned that he can't win with just anyone ''pitching and catching.'' This is a talent-based league and schemes only matter a little. Sam Shade told us that when Spurrier was hired and he was very right.

Spurrier is a smart person, evidenced by his willingness to at least change a little. But I also know some coaches on his staff would like things to change a little bit more (starting with his desire to hold training camp in Ashburn).

Another reason for optimism: Spurrier believes you must build through the draft and he's taken jabs at the way the team has spent in the past, joking about how much it hadn't worked out.

I also liked that Spurrier was honest in a profession where many aren't. Just look at how Marvin Lewis handled his interview with Cincinnati, telling some beat writers that he didn't know when he'd interview for the job. Spurrier, I must say, won't lie.

In fact, the day after Jon Jansen agreed to his contract extension, Spurrier apologized to one local beat writer for not telling him the news the previous day. Spurrier told this writer that he was told by owner Dan Snyder not to tell anyone in the media, save for one paper. Spurrier also told reporters another time that he likes to give information in one setting, that he doesn't like being dishonest with people.

It's hard not to like that.

Most of Spurrier's first season could have gone much better--and had the Redskins played a different style in a few other games, they would have had a better shot at the playoffs.

But if Spurrier is indeed honest with himself, then the Redskins have a chance.

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