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It's Better He Should Go


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By Michael Wilbon

Wednesday, December 31, 2003; Page D01

He never demonstrated that he had the stomach for confronting the big problems that come with being an NFL coach. Players were late for meetings; Steve Spurrier let it slide. Cell phones would go off during meetings, Jon Jansen revealed this week; Spurrier let it slide. Players jumped offsides on defense, couldn't stay lined up properly on offense, followed their own personal game plans instead of their assignments, and the head coach didn't make them accountable the way successful pros must be held accountable.

He never dealt with the harsh realities of pro football, never was able to manage the unpleasant day-to-day details a successful NFL coach has to stay on top of. And in the end, he didn't even confront his own resignation, didn't even stick around to have the tough conversations with his players or with the man who handed him $10 million for two losing seasons. He didn't even stay to tell the truth to some of his own assistant coaches, several of whom found out their fate by television or radio yesterday afternoon.

Late Saturday night, after his team had been trashed by the Philadelphia Eagles, 31-7, Spurrier said he planned to come back, but he needed to iron out some "issues" with owner Daniel Snyder.

Don't look too closely for those issues because there were none. It's not like the ball coach stuck around for a few days to propose alternative solutions to firing his defensive staff and his offensive line coach. It's not like he was burning up the phone lines calling around the league to find linebacker and defensive line coaches. He didn't roll up his sleeves and get to the business of being better next year. Instead, Spurrier was gone not long after noon Sunday, headed back to Florida. He couldn't wait to get out of here.

And it's just as well because there's no scenario under which Spurrier could have come back next season after the way he left. His players had started to defy him openly, during Christmas week of all times. He already knew and they already knew that Spurrier's stuff, the same strategies and schemes that had knocked 'em dead in college, didn't work in the NFL. He knew and they knew it was all fatally flawed, the reliance on pitching and catching outdoors on an NFC East team, the inability to protect the quarterback, the unwillingness to be tough with the players and firm even with the owner. None of it worked from Day One: not his demeanor or his philosophy of football, and since he wasn't ready to overhaul it (nor should he at his age, with his résumé), what was the point?

Had Spurrier come back and gone 0-4, the Redskins would have been in worse shape than they are now, having to play most of the season with an interim coach. And that brings us to the matter of a new coach, the fifth head coach in five years. Count them with me, please: Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie (albeit, briefly), Marty Schottenheimer, Spurrier and soon the new coach.

It's impossible to calculate the disruption of the coaching changes. The players have to be confused about what they're attempting to do, starting with perhaps the two most valuable Redskins, LaVar Arrington and Champ Bailey, who have never known stability here and whose growth as players is absolutely stunted by constant change.

It's not a question of who will come to coach for Snyder; that's as naive a question as there is. There are only 32 head coaching jobs in the NFL, and somebody darned good is always still standing when the music stops. I don't care a bit for this celebrity coaching that consumed Snyder before his last hire, maybe his last two. Already, you can hear Washingtonians whisper the name "Jimmy Johnson," hoping he can do for the Redskins what Bill Parcells has done for the Cowboys.

Approximately 10 days ago, Kornheiser and I asked Johnson what it would take for him to leave retirement. Johnson motioned to what looked like a vast marina compound around him in Florida, the place he calls home, and said, "Do you see this?"

Enough money can tempt any man, but Johnson clearly loves his life, loves the yak-fest of Fox's "NFL Sunday." He's not burning to coach anymore, which should be a hint to anybody who wants to hire him. Why hire a guy who tells you that particular fire has been extinguished?

So it would seem Snyder will turn his eyes elsewhere, which is fine, because there are good head coaching candidates out there. Here are three the Redskins are considering, in no particular order: Dennis Green, Jim Fassel and Ray Rhodes. Sources in the NFL say the Redskins have already sought permission to speak to Rhodes, who remained close to Snyder even after he left the team following Turner's termination.

All three have been coach of the year in the NFL. Rhodes and Green have been big-time assistants on Super Bowl champions, and Fassel has taken a team to the Super Bowl himself. They are professional coaches, literally and figuratively. No knucklehead is going to take out a cell phone in a meeting and still play on Sunday.

Rhodes is fire and brimstone, which is probably what the Redskins need most. Snyder wanted Rhodes when he fired Turner, but Rhodes didn't want "interim." He's had some bad seasons, but who hasn't? Fassel delivered the kind of professionalism Spurrier seemed incapable of, but his Giants bagged it with four games left in the season, which always says something about the coach. Still, maybe what Fassel needs is simply to be delivered from New York.

The biggest issue with Green being hired to coach the Redskins could be his insistence on running the whole show, coaching and being the GM. That interest doesn't seem to have changed; he told The Post's Leonard Shapiro yesterday: "I don't believe in that 'you just go coach the team stuff.' It doesn't make a lot of sense for someone else to tell me this guy should be on my team. Suggestions are fine, and you always talk, but the coach has to have the final say."

Green's relationship with Redskins Vice President of Football Operations Vinny Cerrato, however, is said to be not only solid but respectful (Rhodes and Cerrato also are said to get along well). So perhaps their relationship could allow for this arrangement.

I've been a Green fan since the early 1980s when he coached my alma mater, Northwestern, but I wouldn't give any one coach both responsibilities. It's good to see owners taking away both responsibilities, as the Seahawks did with Mike Holmgren last year and as the Dolphins did with Dave Wannstedt this week.

Green has been a head coach 10 years and reached the playoffs in eight of those seasons. My bet is Green would have taken the 2003 Redskins roster, even without an elite pass rusher, and won 10 games. Green's problems have come deep in the playoffs, specifically in NFC title games.

And that raises one question: When have the Redskins been deep enough in the playoffs to worry about what comes after that?

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