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phillynews.com: The old ball coach has learned a few things


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The old ball coach has learned a few things




He describes himself as "just an old ball coach," but, by many humiliated opponents and resentful fans of teams routed by his Florida Gators, Steve Spurrier was sneeringly and perhaps jealously referred to as "Steve Superior."

You think Larry Bowa's body language and facial expressions are scrutinized? Every look of disgust that registered on Spurrier's expressive face, every visor flip, was duly noted by an army of critics who couldn't understand why someone whose team was leading by five touchdowns in the fourth quarter could appear so arrogant when it failed to convert an otherwise meaningless third-down play.

So the anti-Spurrier forces rose up in jubilation when the subject of their contempt, who bolted to the NFL last season for a new challenge (not to mention a 5-year, $25 million contract), appeared out of his element in guiding the Washington Redskins to a disappointing 7-9 record.

There are no Vanderbilts in the NFL, the skeptics liked to point out, and Spurrier's pass-heavy Fun 'N Gun offense was a poor fit for the personnel he had, even though it may have seemed that he signed every one of his former college players who became available.

Spurrier acknowledged there are people out there who wanted, if not expected him, to fail as an NFL coach.

"I think human nature would say that there's a lot of people that wouldn't like some hotshot from college to come into the NFL and have instant success," Spurrier said as he prepared his 3-1 Redskins for Sunday's game against the 1-2 Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

"We did throw when we had the lead in college, but it was always with our backup players. When we were ahead in big games, we didn't throw much at all. The national championship game [against Florida State] and the SEC championship game [against Alabama] in '96, we threw one pass in the fourth quarter.

"People didn't know that. They saw big scores and said [Florida] threw the ball for a touchdown with 2 minutes left, but it was usually by a bunch of walk-on guys who'd been practicing for 2 or 3 years and wanted to try to score. We did allow them to do that. If it made some people mad, that's OK. I can't make everybody in this world happy.''

Last season, Spurrier found himself on the wrong end of some of those big scores. He now admits he reacted badly to adversity, frequently changing quarterbacks out of frustration and at times almost completely abandoning the running game. Power rusher Stephen Davis, now with Carolina, who had led the NFC with a franchise-record 1,432 yards in 2001, was reduced to almost an afterthought.

And now? Spurrier, who recruited players to fit his system in college, admits that his attempt to transform the Redskins into Florida North was ill-advised. So he jettisoned two former Gator quarterbacks, Shane Matthews and 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel, and made it clear he would stick with second-year QB Patrick Ramsey, Washington's 2002 No. 1 draft choice out of Tulane, as his starter in this season of change.

Perhaps most surprisingly, Spurrier has diversified his offense to the point where the Fun 'N Gun has morphed into the Fun 'N Gun 'N Run. Oh, sure, the strong-armed Ramsey still goes airborne a lot - his 1,036 passing yards are second in the NFL, behind only the 1,168 amassed by Pittsburgh's Tommy Maddox - but the Redskins also have shown they can run the ball effectively. In a season-opening, 16-13 victory over the New York Jets, they had 34 running plays to just 23 passes. In last week's 20-17 win over New England, Ramsey was only 2-for-7, for 12 yards, in the second half as Spurrier elected to stay on the ground with running backs Trung Canidate and Ladell Betts.

"The one thing we probably did as a staff was look back, and the games we've won we've had a pretty good balance of running and throwing," Spurrier said. "The games we lost, we got behind early, threw too much and nothing good ever happened.

"We're trying to balance up more. I think certainly that's the best way to go in the NFL."

At least for now. Spurrier has improved the Redskins' speed on offense, giving him the big-play potential that was lacking a year ago. Expensive free agent wideout Laveranues Coles ($35 million over 7 years) is a potential game-breaker with the ability to stretch the field. Coles hasn't disappointed, with 28 receptions for 453 yards.

Not that Spurrier believes the Redskins, who have outscored opponents by only a 90-85 margin, are as good as their NFL East-leading position might indicate.

"We've been fortunate," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and say we've got it all together. We don't have it all together. We're struggling. We've won close games. We've not dominated anybody. We're just going game by game."

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I didn't read the article, but I imagine it's the same old thing.

I think the same article is just being passed around from one city to the next, depending on the Redskins next opponent. This story ran last week in the New England area. It'll run next week in Tampa, etc.

Why should everyone have to duplicate the same story, when it has already been written for them? :)

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