The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

ADIOS, OL' BALL COACH
says it all
Yesterday, when Steve Spurrier said he would bring a tougher mentality to the Redskins next year, I resisted the temptation to comment on it (despite the coach tossing out the juiciest of tidbits--"Hopefully I can get back to my old style a little bit more"--as if that hadn't gotten him into the mess he was in). I felt there was something grander on the news horizon for the ol' ball coach, and figured I could get in all my jabs at a more appropriate time.

Well, that time is today, as Spurrier quit as head coach after two seasons, and managed to do it in the most convoluted way possible.

Spurrier's resignation was worked out by agent Jimmy Sexton while the coach played golf, presumably in Florida. Spurrier, who had hired Sexton on Monday, was initially unable to reach the agent today because of cell phone troubles on the golf course. That led Spurrier to deny that he had quit after the team had announced his departure in a news release.

"I was caught off-guard," Spurrier said when asked about his denial. "Obviously, when a person resigns he usually calls it in himself. The bottom line is if that's what's best for everyone concerned that's what we'll do. We'll get to the bottom of it by the end of the day."

Spurrier's official resignation statement can be found here. Read it and weep... or not.

Where to begin... With Spurrier himself? It's fitting that his resignation be so confused, as it reflects his entire tenure as an NFL coach. He was a fish out of water from the start. Right away, I thought that the ex-Gator players he brought on board his first year--NFL washouts like Danny Wuerffel and Jacquez Green--were brought in for little other reason than to create an automatic pro-Spurrier bloc in the locker room. These were players who knew they had scant chance at catching on with another NFL club, and so would stay scared of, and intensely loyal to, their former college coach. It was pretty transparent to me, and I have to believe other Redskins players saw through this too.

Beyond that, so many things pointed to Spurrier being a great college coach whose methods just didn't cut it in the big leagues: The prepostorous 2002 preseason, when he ran up 30- and 40-point victories over third-string opponents; the over-delegating in his first season, especially on defense, that gave the appearance of disinterest; the inability to motivate, and especially intimidate, pro players; and probably most galling of all, the slow realization that the Fun 'n Gun doesn't work against defensive players that are a hundred times better than the average college team's.

How much blame does team owner Dan Snyder get? The team's record speaks for itself, as does his coach-hiring record--five coaches since 1999. On the one hand, he gave Spurrier just about everything he could ask for: A contract that provided security, just about total control over coaching hires, huge input over personnel decisions. Snyder loaded up on players like Laveranues Coles and Regan Upshaw and otherwise gave his coach free reign. On the other hand, when things started going sour this season, Snyder did about the worst thing he could do in terms of relations with his coach, and brought in "coaching consultants". Having an overbearing owner like Snyder can't be easy, especially for an egomaniac like Spurrier.

I think, ultimately, Spurrier realized he was in over his head, didn't like losing, didn't like the atmosphere, and decided to cut the experiment short. His last pro head coaching job twenty years ago with the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits must have seemed like a dream compared with his two years in Washington.

People often ask me why I'm such a big NFL fan, yet care nothing for college football. Spurrier's saga, in some ways, sums it all up: They're two different games. The uniforms look the same, the ball looks the same, the players even look the same. But the game, from what happens in the coach's office to the locker room to the field, is not the same. It's not even close. It's like taking a multi-Tony-winning Broadway play and a community theater production and then trying to argue that all facets of the two are identical. It'd be a weak argument. That's how I feel about the NFL and college, and I'll wager that Steve Spurrier feels about that way right now, too.

So what's in store for Spurrier? In speculating the departure a couple of days ago, ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli figured Spurrier would need an escape strategy, if for nothing else than to make his next move more managable. Officially, Spurrier is looking to take a year off. That might be the case. Whether he does or not, I'd guess a return to college ball is the next stop, with the "where" being the main issue.

Call me crazy, but I'm thinking the seat just got hotter for current Florida Gator coach Ron Zook. It wouldn't be the craziest turn of events if UF's athletic director was asked to keep Zook on for another year until Spurrier is ready to return. It would seem to be a case of Spurrier coming back with his tail between his legs, but as he'd be coming home, it'd be easy to brush that sentiment aside--for the most part.

The other options would be to take on a head coaching job elsewhere in the NCAA. A return to an SEC team would be a hoot. If he really wanted to put it all behind him, he could opt to take a college job out West somewhere.

In any case, it's all over. I expect Eric at Off Wing Opinion, who lives in the DC area, will have plenty of thoughts on the end of an error--er, era.