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A lil local Spurrier talk headin into the Jax game...


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Underdog role fits forgotton Spurrier

Peter Kerasotis


I like Steve Spurrier this way.

As he enters his second NFL season, and his team's final preseason game tonight in Jacksonville, Spurrier is back in the role he's always excelled at.


I like him this way.

If you ask me (and even if you don't) I think the single, most important difference between Spurrier's freshman and sophomore seasons as the Washington Redskins' coach is that he's gone from golden child to forgotten child.

Spurrier was everywhere last year. The talking heads couldn't talk enough about him. And we in the print media weren't too far behind, either. In fact, we probably focused on him the most. Spurrier was on the cover of The Sporting News and just about every sports section from Maine to Maui. Goodness, even the stodgy The New Yorker magazine ran a lengthy piece on him.

He was, without a doubt, the NFL's hottest story.

And this year? Well, Spurrier still is on the radar screen this year, but the blip is little fainter, a little more distant, a little bit further off the center of the map.

It's the best thing that could've happened to him.

I know a lot of people think differently. I know a lot of people are writing and saying that the biggest difference between Spurrier this year and last is that he's been humbled. I can see where that perception comes from. In conversations I've had with Spurrier, and from quotes that I've read, the volume on his ****iness is down a few notches. But don't misconstrue that. Spurrier is humbler, sure, but he hasn't been humbled in that he's lost confidence.

Not hardly. He's been humbled in that he realizes now that he has to adjust to the NFL game, and not the other way around.

To me, that speaks more to smarts than humility. And if Spurrier has shown us anything through the years, it's that he's smart.

Reports from the Redskins' training camp reveal that Spurrier has grown and improved as a coach. He is spending a lot more time on the entire football team, and not just the offense.

He has recognized that defense, special teams and personnel are vital ingredients to NFL success.

I smiled the other day when, after beating the Baltimore Ravens in a preseason game, Spurrier's first postgame comment was about team toughness, and his second was about the special teams.

"The special teams play was as good as we've had since I've been here," he said. "The punters, Brian Barker and David Leaverton, hit some good ones, and in coverage we maintained real good field position with the exchange of punts."

Question: When was the last time you heard Steve Spurrier open a postgame news conference by talking about how his team "maintained real good field position with the exchange of punts"?

Answer: Never.

Evidently, this isn't an aberration. A few weeks ago, when training camp started, Spurrier had this to say, "Special teams are a lot more important than maybe I realized they were in college. In college, they weren't all that important. Everybody's moving the ball and there aren't a whole lot of punts. Sometimes at Florida, gosh, we didn't even punt in a game."

In the pros, though, it's different.

"In a close game, if you punt the ball eight times apiece, that's a whole bunch of exchange yardage that could be the difference in the game."

Reading that makes you wonder who kidnapped Steve Spurrier and replaced him with this guy.

Kidding aside, I think this is good. Positive. A huge step forward.

The biggest criticism I had of Spurrier when he coached the Florida Gators was his stubbornness. If his game plan wasn't working, he'd often try to ram it through instead of adjusting. So there was concern that, after a 7-9 rookie year in the NFL, he might try to do the same things and get the same results. Or worse.

But that's hardly been the case.

Last year, Spurrier frankly embarrassed himself. He wasn't as prepared as he needed to be. At times, he couldn't even tell you the names of some of his defensive personnel and pooh-poohed the importance of special teams. He made a lot of mistakes and misjudgments. He'll tell you that, too.

But if he is truly arrogant, like a lot of people are convinced he is, he wouldn't have adjusted and changed, like he has going into this season.

"We didn't coach very well last year," he has said, more than once recently.

Maybe that's humility showing. I tend to think it's more honesty. And if we've learned anything about Spurrier through the years, it's that he can be brutally honest. Right now, he's being very honest with himself, as well as with his thoughts and vision and approach to the NFL.

What will all this mean? Well, I don't know if the Redskins will be better than 7-9 this season, but I do think the postseason is in Spurrier's future.

Most importantly, he still believes that, too.

But his legion of doubters are lining up around the block these days, ready to bury him. And that's fine. Steve Spurrier always has operated better when there weren't many believers; when he was the underdog. Just look at his track record.

He was an underdog, and successful, when he coached in that professional stepchild league we once knew as the USFL. He was an underdog, and successful, when he was cutting his teeth at that football outpost known as Duke. He was an underdog, and successful, when he arrived at a Florida Gator program slapped with sanctions and with a marred national image.

Spurrier is better at proving people wrong than he is at proving them right. He is more comfortable climbing a mountain than he is standing on top of it.

After last season, the mountain got a lot steeper.

He is an underdog again.

I like him this way.

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