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Redskins Are Only NFL Team to Have Blacks Overseeing Offense, Defense

By Nunyo Demasio

Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, August 3, 2003; Page E01

George Edwards used his burly frame to halt tailbacks and receivers while playing inside linebacker for Coach Steve Spurrier as the Duke Blue Devils underwent a revival from 1987 to 1989.

The next season, Spurrier switched to the Florida Gators and made Edwards a graduate assistant because of his work ethic and intelligence. Edwards handled the linebackers for two years before departing to scale the coaching ladder. His relationship with Spurrier remained close, with occasional family gatherings, as Edwards eventually landed in the NFL.

Conversely, after becoming Washington Redskins coach in 2002, Spurrier knew so little about Hue Jackson, the running backs coach under former coach Marty Schottenheimer, that Jackson had concerns about keeping his job. During Spurrier's first NFL season, however, he noted the energy Jackson exhibited during practice, zigging and zagging behind his tailbacks during simulated games. In meetings, Spurrier saw that Jackson's knowledge extended well beyond the running game. And the detail-oriented head coach admired his assistant's habit of reissuing scripts merely because of a typo.

Despite the presence of assistants with Florida ties or more experience, late last season Spurrier made Jackson the offensive coordinator, relinquishing the title. About three weeks later, on Jan. 15, Spurrier named Edwards the defensive coordinator to replace Marvin Lewis, who left to become the Cincinnati Bengals' head coach.

Spurrier learned a few days later that his decisions put the Redskins in exclusive company: the sole franchise in the NFL with two black coordinators. They are also among the youngest in the league; Edwards is 36, Jackson 37. They are not the first such pair: In 1992, then Green Bay Coach Mike Holmgren named Sherman Lewis his offensive coordinator and Ray Rhodes his defensive coordinator. But in the decade since then, it has been a rare occurrence.

"I didn't really look at it that way. I certainly felt that George Edwards was ready to be a coordinator," said Spurrier, whose team tied for the ACC title in 1989, when Edwards led Duke with 116 tackles.

"As a coach you're always thinking who are the best coaches I can hire? Who are the best players I can get? It doesn't matter where they're from."

Spurrier's words were similar to those of several officials and players in the organization. Most of those interviewed had been oblivious to the racial significance of Spurrier's choices. Nonetheless, the situation is noteworthy if only because of the prickly issue of race in the NFL's head coaching ranks.

Last week, the NFL fined Detroit Lions President Matt Millen $200,000 for not adhering to the league's mandate of interviewing at least one minority candidate for a head coaching vacancy before hiring Steve Mariucci.

A coordinator position is the biggest springboard to becoming an NFL head coach, a job that has remained elusive to blacks despite the fact they comprise almost 70 percent of players. This season there are a record 14 black coordinators, and Marvin Lewis nudges the number of black head coaches to three. (Tony Dungy of Indianapolis and Herman Edwards of the New York Jets are the others.) There were no black coordinators and only 14 black assistants in 1980, compared with almost 160 now -- or about 30 percent.

However, progress seems to move at a glacial pace. Even some black coaches who have success then struggle aren't given second chances, as their white counterparts are. For example, Art Shell compiled a 56-41 record in five seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders but hasn't received a head coaching offer since his dismissal in 1994.

"It's not something to jump up and down and say, 'The Redskins have two black coordinators. Isn't that great?' " said Dungy. "The thing to jump up and down about is [spurrier's approach]. I applaud that.

"Eventually when that happens enough, this whole problem with the numbers will take care of itself."

One factor cited in the dearth of black head coaches is that NFL owners almost always hire people they are most familiar with, which is often other whites. The same situation supposedly occurs with head coaches and coordinators.

"What Steve did was say: 'I've talked to this guy,' " Dungy said Thursday, " 'I've found out that he's really sharp so I'll [promote] him.' As opposed to saying: 'I have to hire somebody that I already know.' If the people that you know are the best people, there's nothing wrong with that. But if you run into good people, give them a chance."

Jackson's ascension is particularly significant: He is only the third black offensive coordinator in the NFL after Maurice Carthon with the Dallas Cowboys and Sherman Lewis with the Lions. Traditionally, offensive coordinators have a better chance to become head coaches than defensive coordinators. And Jackson is the first offensive coordinator -- of any race -- under Spurrier, who has been a head coach for 19 seasons.

"It says a lot that he has that kind of respect for [Jackson]," said Noah Brindise, the Redskins' quarterbacks coach who has worked under Spurrier the past four years. "That was a big honor. It really was."

Yet there had been whispers that the title didn't really mean much because Spurrier intends to call his own plays. Most NFL head coaches have an offensive coordinator who calls plays, but about a third of NFL head coaches call their own plays.

Spurrier is renown for his play-calling, but last season faced time constraints with his unconventional triple title of coach/offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. This season he wants to become more involved in other areas of the team, specifically defense and special teams, and he bristles at the notion that Jackson's position has little relevance.

"It's not only a title," said Spurrier. "I've allowed him to really organize the offense and help set it up."

Like other offensive coordinators, Spurrier said, Jackson will script plays, have significant input in game plans and oversee the other assistants. The offense is designed by Spurrier using his idiosyncratic schemes. But Jackson takes a lead role in preparation: installing the offense during team meetings, explaining concepts and compiling the playbook. Jackson doesn't hesitate to suggest tweaking an offensive play. (When the team splits into position meetings, Jackson still works with the tailbacks.) "Obviously Hue earned my respect last year," Spurrier said. "I really believe he'll be a head coach in the future."

Initially, Jackson felt that his future with the Redskins was tenuous after Schottenheimer was fired following the 2001 season.

"Obviously, there was the thought that I might not have a job," Jackson said this past week. "I got to know Coach Spurrier and he got to know me."

Spurrier already knew Jackson's résumé. He was Southern California's offensive coordinator from 1997 to 2000. He had the same role at Cal in 1996, overseeing the Golden Bears' high-powered offense, and also spent time at Arizona State (1992-95), Cal State Fullerton (1990-91) and Pacific (1987-89).

But nothing on paper could reveal certain qualities that Spurrier discovered in Jackson: energy, organizational skill and a persnickety nature that rivaled that of the head coach. One time, when Jackson leafed through a script for practice, he spotted a misplaced letter in the football jargon for a formation. Jackson went back and corrected it before the script was handed out. "I just like for things to be as close to perfect as possible," said Jackson, grinning..

Spurrier promoted Jackson on Dec. 26, shortly before the season finale. When Lewis's departure seemed inevitable, several defensive players advocated Edwards's promotion, citing the need for continuity. Edwards was a promising assistant, and being in Spurrier's comfort zone seemed to benefit him. Edwards had stayed in touch with Spurrier while Edwards was linebackers coach with the Dallas Cowboys from 1998 to 2001.

After hiring Edwards as linebackers coach last season, Spurrier told Edwards he would be strongly considered for defensive coordinator if it ever came open.

"I feel like George is one of my guys," Spurrier said.

Spurrier feels that Edwards can be a conduit in an area of football that seems foreign to him: defense. With Lewis as coordinator, Spurrier appeared reluctant to become involved. (Last season, Spurrier showed his ignorance about defense by downplaying Champ Bailey's impact because the cornerback made few interceptions.) Edwards was named defensive coordinator in mid February, while the coaching staff was scouting the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Like Spurrier, Edwards was oblivious to the racial element of the hiring until being informed days later.

"I really didn't look at it in terms of black and white," said Edwards, who left Florida in 1992 to become an assistant at Appalachian State for four seasons before moving on to Duke (1996) and Georgia (1997). "I thought of it as an opportunity that I've been blessed to have. And hopefully, I'll make the most out of it."

Edwards is cognizant of such statistics as there being only six black head coaches in the modern history of the NFL. (Fritz Pollard coached the Hammond, Ind., Pros from 1923 to 1925 before Shell became the next black head coach in the NFL in 1989.) However, the relative youth of Edwards and Jackson, Dungy said, may affect their full grasp of the NFL's history regarding black coaches.

"Not being in the league that long and not experiencing the history, it probably doesn't have the same impact on them," said Dungy, who made history last season when the Colts played the Jets in the postseason, the first time black head coaches had met in a playoff game. "You can understand if they say 'I'm going to do the best job. The [race angle] is no big deal.' "

Edwards is the Redskins' fifth defensive coordinator in the past five seasons. He faces a challenge of maintaining a defensive unit that appears diminished following a fifth-place ranking in the NFL. Edwards has to overcome a makeshift line, which threatens to make average tailbacks resemble Gale Sayers. Tackle Daryl Gardener, the club's most valuable player last season, departed to the Denver Broncos and tackle Dan Wilkinson was released last week. Safety also remains a position of concern.

One consolation is that the unit won't face a familiar disadvantage: Edwards will use virtually the same terminology -- and schemes -- from last season.

"We're not starting over from scratch," Edwards said.

Yet, Edwards will scratch some important aspects of Lewis's defense to reshape the unit in his image, making it less regimented. Last season, Lewis almost always kept Bailey on the same side of the field. Edwards -- who coached Georgia's defensive line in 1997, when Bailey was a sophomore with the Bulldogs -- intends to shift the cornerback around to shadow dangerous wideouts.

The other critical change involves linebacker LaVar Arrington. The athletic defender made the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive season after leading the Redskins with a career-high 11 sacks. However, Arrington was frustrated by frequently playing at end on passing downs. Edwards plans to use Arrington as a linebacker on third downs.

More subtle changes on defense will occur through technique. After a play during an 11-on-11 drill on Thursday, Edwards approached center Wilbert Brown, turning his body to illustrate a preferred technique. On the other side of the field, Jackson glanced as his script -- almost certainly free of typos -- after each play.

Some Redskins officials and players play down the significance of Edwards and Jackson being named coordinators. ("I know [black coaches] has been a big issue," said reserve quarterback Rob Johnson. "But I don't think about that, to tell you the truth.") Yet it can't be dismissed that such a scenario currently occurs on only one team.

"There's always been an issue that minorities don't get many coaching opportunities," Jackson said. "When I look at the opportunity, I can't help but be thankful. I know it wasn't that [spurrier] thought, 'Okay let's have two minorities.' They felt we earned the opportunity. That's the way it should be."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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Spurrier and Edwards were two cats who pulled Duke up by their bootstraps and made the program competitive.

Peopel should be able to understand that when Edwards was a MLB he was part of 6-5 seasons at Duke - that was a huge thing.

They've slipped a whole lot since then but Duke did share the ACC title in 1989, the last year of OBCs reign.

Edwards is a sharp kid who maxed the Cowpukes LB production - and earned his stripes.

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Sounds like both these guys earned their opportunities. Their success will be a great story for them, and a great run for us as a team.

In Edwards case, the fact that the players were vocal in support for him, should translate into playing harder for him. They will feel the need to prove themselves right about supporting him. That's one of the reasons I'm a little more optimistic about our D-line than some. Plus the fact that I've felt our run defense, in spite of the three recent seasons rankings, have been making ordinary running backs look like HOFers for the last 10 years. So I don't think we will fall off at all.

Actually, after hearing for the next month how they suck so bad, and that they are the weakest link on the team, they should come out of the gates smoking. I think they will be underestimated early by opposing teams. That will allow them to get on a roll. And a hungry team with momentum in the second half of the season will be very dangerous.

See New England's SB season.

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