Jump to content
Washington Football Team Logo

Spurrier takes blame for team's struggles


Recommended Posts

Spurrier takes blame for team's struggles

By Chris Harry | Sentinel Staff Writer

Posted August 5, 2003


Steve Spurrier's first team in Washington started with seven of his Florida players, including two quarterbacks. The number eventually grew to eight. This season, though, there are just three.

WR Reidel Anthony: Released in final preseason cut of 2002, out of football.

RB Robert Gillespie: Released during the preseason, re-signed to practice squad. Trying again this season but may end up on practice squad again.

WR Jacquez Green: Had team-record, 90-yard punt return vs. Philadelphia but cut in midseason. Now with Tampa Bay.

G Leon Hires: Released during preseason, out of football.

WR Willie Jackson: Signed at midseason, released after two games, out of football.

WR Taylor Jacobs: Redskins' 2nd-round pick in the '03 draft and should get an opportunity to be the No. 3 or 4 receiver this season.

QB Shane Matthews: Offensive player of the week to open season, benched three times, now in Cincinnati.

QB Danny Wuerffel: Promoted to starter at midseason, lost job to rookie Patrick Ramsey, could be 'Skins' No. 3 guy this season.


Aug 5, 2003

Team strength. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Aug 5, 2003

ASHBURN, Va. -- The unemployed quarterback arrived in Tampa in March excited about the opportunity ahead. Free agency was under way, the reigning Super Bowl champions needed backups at his position and the window to make an impression on Tampa Bay's coach would not be open long.

The office at One Buc Place was dark, but Jon Gruden sat behind a cluttered desk, his freckled face illuminated by the light of the computer screens and video monitors.

The player entered, hand extended. The coach got right to the point.

"Shane Matthews," Gruden said. "C'mon in and tell me what the hell happened in Washington last year."

It's a question people of far less notoriety have been wondering since Steve Spurrier's highly anticipated first NFL season played to less-than-favorable reviews -- and few offensive fireworks -- before ending with a 7-9 record.

"Everybody asks," Matthews, the ex-Florida standout and 11-year NFL veteran, said of the Redskins' deflating 2002 campaign. "There were a lot of reasons, but the bottom line is, it just didn't work out."

To paraphrase Dickens, it was the best of times turned worst of times. Call it "A Tale of Too Many Gators."

Eleven days after stepping down from the Florida post he commanded for 12 years, Spurrier signed a five-year, $25 million deal to coach the Redskins. By the time the team reported for Spurrier's first NFL training camp, he had acquired a small core of his former Florida players -- including Matthews and 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel -- for what was going to be a rousing reunion of the Fun-N-Gun.

But the transition from college to pro proved far more difficult than Spurrier and his orange-and-blue posse imagined. The offenses that were so innovative and productive at UF looked unprepared and out of sync at times, overwhelmingly out-talented at others. The combination led to some wounded pride and hurt feelings among old friends.

No fun, even less gun.

"The expectations and interest levels were just so high," Wuerffel said from his home in New Orleans last week. "Under those circumstances, when things don't go well, frustrations are going to mount. A lot of people expected more from last season, us included."

Maybe that was the problem.

"We were probably a little foolish last year to think we could come up here, run our offense and beat everybody," said Redskins quarterbacks coach Noah Brindise, one of six assistants Spurrier brought with him from Gainesville. "It doesn't work that way in this league."

It was enough to make the NFL masses wonder whether Spurrier is cut out for the next level.

"That's OK," Spurrier said between workouts at Redskins Park last week during his second NFL training camp. "Until you get it done, criticism is perfectly fair."

Fast forward to today. A roster replenished during the off-season by more than a dozen players is considerably Gators-less now. Meanwhile, a city known for its Redskins passion has swapped fanfare for skepticism. Washington opens the preseason Saturday at Carolina, and unlike last year, no one is going to be impressed by the kind of gaudy exhibition numbers the Redskins cranked out before things started to count last season.

"Coach Spurrier learned a lot," said Matthews, now vying for the No. 3 quarterback spot in Cincinnati. "At Florida, we won in such a glamorous way, throwing for 300 and 400 yards and blowing teams out. But in the NFL, the talent level is so even. The game becomes about protecting the football and utilizing your strengths.

"Sure, everybody wants to put up great stats, but the bottom line is winning games, and it doesn't matter if you win 3-2."

With the fifth-ranked defense in the league, the Redskins could have won some low-scoring games last year were it not for self-destruction on offense. Their 40 turnovers were fewer than just two teams, the kicking game was a disaster and the unsettled quarterback situation brought back memories of former Gators Terry Dean and Doug Johnson.

Spurrier has no problem taking the blame.

"Last year, it was pretty simple: We didn't coach very well," he said. "If you're struggling, it doesn't matter if you're an owner or an athletic director; you can either go out and get better coaches or go get better players. Fortunately, our owner decided we needed some better players."

Now, four of the five former UF players that Spurrier coaxed the Redskins into signing are gone. Matthews and wide receivers Jacquez Green (Tampa Bay) and Chris Doering (Pittsburgh) don't have free passes onto rosters this year. Wide receiver Reidel Anthony, who eventually was cut in last year's camp, remains out of work.

Wuerffel is the lone former Gator still standing in burgundy; he was re-signed Sunday because backup Rob Johnson was struggling to grasp the offense.

Weaknesses addressed

Few in NFL front-office circles were surprised things didn't work out. None of Spurrier's "Gatorskins" had much to show in their careers before all the hoopla hit the nation's capital. A season later, they still don't.

Meanwhile, Washington owner Dan Snyder was his news-making self during the off-season, signing or trading for 16 new players -- including former New York Jets wide receiver Laveranues Coles -- in his annual splash to upgrade. This time, Snyder's moves were calculated rather than compulsive and zeroed in on areas of need, with an eye on salary-cap ramifications.

This time, it was personnel, not personal.

Even the drafting of former UF wide receiver Taylor Jacobs in April was by the scouting department's book. The Redskins, who forfeited their first-round pick by signing Coles, had Jacobs rated among their top 25 players. They needed a receiver, and Jacobs was there in the second round at No. 44.

"I got stereotyped," Jacobs said of his tumble on draft day. "I don't know what happened here last year, but it had nothing to do with me. For some reason, it didn't happen for those other Florida guys, but there's a first time for everything."

Unfortunately, the first time for most of the others turned out to be their last.

Matthews, the only quarterback Spurrier never benched at Florida, got his first taste of the coach's itchy quarterback trigger.

Wuerffel had some good games, but the lack of arm strength that has dogged him throughout his pro career reared itself. He'll probably be the No. 3 guy this season. Anthony did not make the team. Green was cut midway through the season. Doering saw limited action in four-wide sets and was the only Gator standing (on the field) at season's end.

Along the way, the coach who used to name his score and yardage in the Southeastern Conference watched his first NFL offense repeatedly get stifled. The Redskins finished 20th in total offense and 29th in turnover ratio. Spurrier switched quarterbacks seven times -- including three benchings of Matthews -- before settling on first-round pick Patrick Ramsey to start the final three games.

Ramsey won the last two, beating the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys, and returned this season as the quarterback of the future.

Around him, the Redskins placed some players -- such as Coles, running back Trung Canidate and guards Randy Thomas and Dave Fiore -- who are better fits for Spurrier's offense.

As for the quarterbacks of the past?

"I told Shane and Danny and all those guys when we brought them in here that no matter what happened, I'd always love them and appreciate them for what they did at Florida," Spurrier said.

"I thought those players would play about like they did in college, but it just didn't work out that way.

"It became sort of like a coach coaching his son -- and I never wanted to coach my son," Spurrier said.

Disappointment abounded

As coach at Florida, Spurrier went into the homes of recruits and told parents he would look after their children. It was part of his job description.

It isn't anymore.

"I guess we learned a great lesson in life. You can't try to go back in time and replay something the way it was before," Doering said from Steelers camp in Latrobe, Pa. "We all thought we were going in there, and it would be 1994, '95 or '96 all over again. It just didn't work like that. Coach was disappointed; we were disappointed."

In some cases, they were disappointed in each other. Word trickled down to Gainesville that Spurrier had lost a little of his edge after a year in the big leagues. Talk among some former Gators scattered across the NFL was that Spurrier's trademark confidence and his ability to identify defensive weaknesses and exploit them was missing.

Green, who said he was demoted unfairly in the preseason, took exception to the scheme.

"You can't [have the quarterback] take five- and seven-step drops all game long -- I don't care who your linemen are -- because you're going to get your quarterback killed," Green said. "Our defense could have won three, maybe four more games for us last year if we'd taken care of the ball and played a smarter, more field-position game.

"If [spurrier's] stubbornness doesn't get in the way of the team, yeah, his style can definitely work. But who knows what he's going to do?"

Green was not impressed by the Redskins' off-season moves, either.

"They got better at guard and receiver, that's it. They still don't have a running back," Green said. "How you going to run between the tackles with the guys they got? Trung Canidate? Please."

Spurrier wasn't surprised to hear Green was bitter: "He's been bitter everywhere he's been."

And Spurrier has been better everywhere he's been.

Now what?

"He'll adjust. He'll do what it takes to be successful," Wuerffel said -- before he re-signed.

Said Matthews: "I honestly think he learned a lot last year, and so did some of those college coaches he brought with him. More time has to be put in it, which he figured out. He has a year under his belt now. He has a better idea of what works and what doesn't work."

He knows the Gator Player Experiment didn't work. The Gator Coach Experiment remains on the board.

In other words, what is going to happen in Washington this year?

"We believe we're a much better team," Spurrier said. "Now, we have to go prove it."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I still can't get over the fact that the media bashes Spurrier because the Skins didn't go to the superbowl and have the #1 offense in Spurriers FIRST YEAR AS COACH. I hope when Parcells goes 5-11 again this year with the cowboys, he gets the same criticism.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Green's statement about our running game puzzles me. I was tickled to death with Betts and Watson last year and I feel good about our rushing game. Canidate may not be the back to slug it out between the tackles but Betts definitely is.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...