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nice artcle on SS, with some info on Doering

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Steve Spurrier might look out of place in burgundy and gold, but the Redskins say he has been a good fit.

-- Rick Wilson/Staff


New commander in chief

So far, Redskins players and fans hail Washington's bold ball coach

By Mark Woods

Times-Union sports writer

CARLISLE, Pa. -- It had been a typically busy news day in the nation's capital. The Senate defeated two prescription drug plans. The Dow was reeling. And, of course, there were more concerns in the Middle East.

So what did readers see when they opened up the Washington Post on the morning of July 24, 2002?

Steve Spurrier.

Atop the page -- the front page -- was a picture of Spurrier, wearing an outfit that was both familiar (khaki shorts, a white shirt and white visor) and strange (burgundy and gold logos on the shirt and visor). Spurrier, described in the cutline not as a former University of Florida coach, but as "a former NFL quarterback," was following through with his right arm after giving Shane Matthews a tip.

"Follow the Leader," it said below the photo.

The leader of the nation also got some ink that day. But President Bush was below the photo of the Washington Redskins' new coach on his first day of training camp. And the hundreds of fans who showed up at Dickinson College that morning -- many of them making the two-hour drive from the D.C. area -- didn't have a problem with this news judgment.


Redskins coach Steve Spurrier watches over his offense. "We don't want to be too good too soon," he says.

-- Rick Wilson/Staff


"Everybody's talking about it," Jan Hall said, pointing to her husband and adding: "People are always coming up to him and saying, 'Now that we've got the right coach we're going to do it.'"

They come up to Bill Hall, a 59-year-old electrician and lifelong D.C. area resident, because he always is wearing Redskins apparel. Their house in Annapolis, Md., has gold siding and burgundy trim. The walls inside are covered with Redskins memorabilia. And, yes, Bill Hall and his son are among Washington's elite. They are season-ticket holders.

"I was very pleased with the hire," Hall said, leaning against a fence and watching Spurrier work with the offense. "Ever since Joe Gibbs left, the coaching hasn't been very good. ... And I always liked Spurrier, even when he was down in Florida, even though he didn't coach my favorite college team."

When asked what that team might be, Hall smiled, knowing the answer would make his excitement about Spurrier's hire seem impossible.

"Florida State," he said.

Hall is hardly alone in the D.C. area. There is a buzz that extends, at least for this month, all the way to Steelers country and the campus of this 219-year-old college in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. Walk by the souvenir stands and you find some new items for sale this year. Redskins visors. Four kinds.

The longtime Redskins fans say Spurrier's hiring ranks not far behind the arrival of Vince Lombardi in 1969 or George Allen in 1971. And back inside the beltway, it's like Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote in January: "Aside from politics, nothing excites Washington like a 15-inch snowfall or a new Redskins coach. Both events make the whole town giddy with childlike anticipation."

You couldn't blame Washington if the arrival of a football coach brought adult-like yawns. When Spurrier accepted a $25 million offer from 37-year-old owner Daniel Snyder, he became the team's fourth coach in a 13-month span.

Yet, the Redskins and their fans want to believe. They want to believe that Spurrier's ballplays will work in the NFL. They want to believe that somehow this relationship will work, that Norv Turner was an arranged marriage, that Marty Schottenheimer was an ill-fated affair, that Terry Robiskie was a one-night stand and that Spurrier is Snyder's Mr. Right.

"He's much happier," Tanya Snyder said when her husband held his third annual owner's party. "It feels like the real beginning."

There are, of course, the transplanted believers, the people who say they know Spurrier can succeed here because, well, they were with him when he did it elsewhere. The ex-Gators. As the players came off the field after workouts last week, yanking off their pads and jerseys, several headed to the locker room wearing sweaty T-shirts that said: "FLORIDA." There are, if you count assistant coaches and an administrative assistant, 15 former Gators.

"I think I played with all of them except Robert Gillespie," wide receiver Chris Doering said with a smile. "And I played some Swamp Shooters -- our offseason basketball games -- with him. ... It's good to be back with friends. But it's also good to be among coaches who know that you can be successful and are willing to give you a chance."

Doering began his NFL career in Jacksonville, as a sixth-round pick of the Jaguars in 1996. His stay was short -- he was waived in mid-August -- and at least from his standpoint, unpleasant.

"It was not a very enjoyable time for me," he said. "To be honest with you, I wasn't sure if I wanted to play football anymore being in that environment. I respond better to positive criticism, letting guys make mistakes and not get down on them. I think that's the atmosphere we have here."

In the first week of camp, there was much talk about "the atmosphere." And they weren't referring to the cold front that rolled in by Friday, causing Spurrier to don a windbreaker and dump the visor in favor of a baseball cap.

Defensive end Renaldo Wynn, who spent his first five NFL seasons in Jacksonville, described Spurrier's camp as a "breath of fresh air." And the returning Redskins kept contrasting it to the previous summer, when Schottenheimer installed alarms on their doors and wouldn't let them eat meals if they showed up even a few seconds late.

"We're all grown men," said wide receiver Rod Gardner, a former Raines High School star. "And he treats us like that. We're all excited. We can't wait to show what we can do."

Of course, it was just a couple years ago that Redskins players, many of them now gone, were saying the same thing about playing for Turner. But it isn't so much the atmosphere as the curiosity about Spurrier's offense that brought more than 200 journalists to Dickinson's football field for the first week of camp.

The early verdict: wait-and-see.

When the Redskins' offense went to passing drills, the fans cheered. One yelled from the stands, "Air it out, coach!" And when Jacquez Green ran down the right sideline and, with one hand, pulled in a pass from Matthews, the crowd roared and Spurrier grinned. Just like old times. Until the Redskins' defense trotted over from an adjacent field.

Then the three quarterbacks -- Danny Wuerffel, Sage Rosenfels and Matthews -- struggled to complete passes. There was one day during the first week of camp when the offense ran plays against the defense from a series of places -- inside the red zone, on the defense's 1-yard line and, finally, on its own 1-yard line -- each time producing few positive plays.

"That's OK," Spurrier said. "We don't want to be good too soon."

But will they be good in time for a schedule that includes road trips to Green Bay, San Francisco and, on Thanksgiving, Dallas? And how good does the offense really need to be to improve on the 8-8 mark of 2001?

The first week of camp was a reminder that while most of the offseason focus has been on Spurrier and all the ex-Gators, including Wuerffel and Matthews, the immediate strength of this team is its defense. Much to the delight of the fans, the Redskins lured defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis away from rival Baltimore, then added Jeremiah Trotter and Jessie Armstead to a linebacker corps that already had LaVar Arrington. And despite the initial dominance in practice, the defensive players kept saying they already are believers in Spurrier and his offense.

"You should have at least four good corners if you want to play against it," Armstead said. "If you come out with only two, you're in trouble."

Meanwhile, the ex-Gators kept insisting that the system will work in the NFL -- and scoffing at talk that they are merely products of it.

"If I'm going to be a product of a system, then I want to be a product of Coach Spurrier's system." said Green, who left Tampa Bay and signed with the Redskins as a free agent. "It's successful. And it's going to be successful here. I think a lot of ex-Gators who haven't been real successful in the NFL have been in bad systems. A lot of us went from the Fun-'n'-Gun to systems where you just run hook routes and slant routes. I mean, why even bother drafting us if that's all you're going to do?"

Spurrier has been quick to point out that the Redskins didn't draft any Gators, that they went out and filled out the roster with them later, at little or no risk.

"Not only were they available, but they were cheap," he said. "Cheap and available. That's become sort of our motto around here."

That, of course, isn't exactly true. The coach was available. But he wasn't cheap. Some have suggested that there are 25 million reasons why Spurrier jumped at a chance to work for Snyder.

Spurrier says it wasn't about the money but the challenge, the desire to move on to something different. And already he has made a believer of one very key veteran. Cornerback Darrell Green is beginning his 20th season with the team. After one practice, he pointed to the doors of the locker room and said, "The same red paint as when I walked through them in 1983."

He has seen coaches come and go. He has been through easy camps and hard camps. He shrugs off all the talk of the atmosphere being different. Every camp, he says, has a different atmosphere. That doesn't necessarily make it better or worse.

But, he says, there is one thing Spurrier did that made him believe. It wasn't some play Spurrier ran in practice. It was something he said in a meeting.

"He probably didn't think much about it, but it really struck me," Green said. "He said that one of his goals was to never get fired. I thought about it. And that's basically what I've done. ... He's not a fat and lazy coach. I know there are fat and lazy coaches. I know there are fat and lazy players. But I know in 20 years, I never cheated them out of a dollar. And I get the same feeling about him."

To avoid being fired -- to end his coaching career on his own terms -- would have been easy in Gainesville. But it will be a challenge with Snyder. Even last week at practice, the owner's presence was obvious. How can you not be aware of it when, as you begin talking to reporters after practice, you hear the THUMP-THUMP-THUMP of a helicopter taking off behind the stands?

"He's been wonderful," Spurrier said later. "He's been fine. I have no problems. He's a good guy. He's the owner. I've never had problems with ADs or presidents or owners. They do their job and allow me to do mine. I'm not the type who needs to do everything."

There has been speculation that Spurrier left UF partly because of a rift with athletics director Jeremy Foley. When asked about that, Spurrier says that wasn't the case -- although his comments indicate he was frustrated by some things -- and that the two still talk regularly.

"That wasn't the reason," Spurrier said. "A lot of things all added up to where it was clearcut that I needed to go this year. You know, how long could I argue with him to move the FSU game? Sometimes when you can't win any arguments that you think are important, you quit arguing. We had some disagreements. He knows that. But that wasn't it. Twelve years was plenty."

So here he is, in the nation's capital, on the front page, surrounded by fans and players who desperately want to do what he always has done. Believe in Steve Spurrier.

Of all the bold statements he has made since arriving -- and he said he expects the Redskins to win the NFC East, adding, "Gosh, we only have to beat three teams -- the boldest might have to do with who will be the head coach when the Redskins open camp next year.

"I'll be here," Spurrier said.

Staff writer Mark Woods can be reached at (904)359-4363 or via e-mail at mwoodsjacksonville.com. His column returns Wednesday.

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