Spurrier rides atop Snyder's carousel

Fla. gem joins long line `lucky' to coach 'Skins

January 16, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - This is what passes for normal in the strange world of Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskins.

Soon after the end of another so-so season, a long, black limousine pulls up at Redskin Park and spits out a multimillionaire coach with a glistening resume and a knack for saying all the right things at his first news conference.

Former University of Florida coach Steve Spurrier became Snyder's fourth head coach in the space of less than two years when he was hired earlier this week to replace Marty Schottenheimer. He also became the highest-paid head coach in the history of professional football with a five-year, $25 million contract, which isn't bad for a guy who has never coached a game in the NFL.

"I realize I'm one lucky guy to be coaching the Washington Redskins," Spurrier said.

He might want to ask Schottenheimer or Norv Turner about that. Throw in interim coach Terry Robiskie and Snyder is averaging one head coach for every five regular-season games dating to Turner's departure after the 13th game of the 2000 season.

Schottenheimer said the same kind of things when he sat next to Snyder on the same stage at the Redskins' headquarters a year ago, but his four-year, $10 million deal was terminated after just one .500 season.

Spurrier likely will get a much longer leash, based on his enormous guaranteed salary and his apparent ability to defer to his volatile owner, but the challenge will be the same.

He must put the Redskins back on the Super Bowl track in short order and do so without invoking the wrath of an employer who has been compared unfavorably with the 1970s version of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

Spurrier obviously knows what he has gotten into, but he seems to be comfortable with the direction that Snyder has indicated the Redskins will go during this off-season.

"Only time will tell, but I believe that Dan Snyder wants to win for the Washington Redskins, the fans and the area," Spurrier said. "I think we're on the same page. I don't think we'll have too many differences. If we do, Mr. Snyder will win, but I'm sure he'll listen to me quite a bit."

Snyder was all smiles after outflanking several NFL teams with his aggressive pursuit of the popular Florida coach.

"Obviously, my expectation is the same as that of every Washington Redskins fan," Snyder said, "restoring the greatness and tradition of this team, getting back to the playoffs and getting another Super Bowl victory."

The next order of business for the controversial owner will be hiring a general manager, something he said will happen in the next few weeks. Spurrier's first challenge will be assembling a coaching staff, which he said will include several members of his University of Florida staff, "two or three" members of the current Redskins staff and an experienced defensive coordinator from outside the organization.

Then comes the task of evaluating the roster and formulating a plan for next season.

"I'm real excited about the opportunity," Spurrier said. "There are a lot of good players on this team. This team is capable of having a big year next year. How big? We'll find out."

The Redskins are coming off an uneven season during which they lost the first five games before winning five straight and finishing with eight victories in their last 11 games.

The strong finish appeared to vindicate Schottenheimer's my-way-or-the-highway coaching philosophy, but he alienated a few of the core veterans of the team along the way.

The arrival of Spurrier prompted one of those key players - defensive end Bruce Smith - to commandeer the microphone after the news conference and announce that he would be returning for the 2002 season.

There had been some speculation that Smith, 38, might retire rather than return for another season under Schottenheimer, but he wasted no time throwing his support behind the new coach.

"I think it's going to be great for all the players involved - the offense, special teams and defense," Smith said. "This is good for us all.

"I didn't come here to say bad things about Marty. We just had a difference of opinion. Things just didn't work out."

Though much of the team eventually bought into the Schottenheimer program, some of the older players felt his hard-contact practice regimen kept some of them from being in peak condition at game time.

Spurrier said yesterday that he would take a different approach in practice, one that emphasizes execution and involves only a modest amount of contact, but he stopped short of criticizing Schottenheimer's coaching philosophy.

"Marty Schottenheimer is a friend of mine," Spurrier said. "I have a lot of respect for him and I think he did a great job here. But that's history now. We're going forward."

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