Spurrier changes jobs, not ways

Pro football: From his approach on offense to his quick wit, Redskins first-year coach Steve Spurrier hasn't altered his style.

July 22, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

There are certain things you expect from Steve Spurrier.

The ever-present visor shielding his tanned face.

The sharp verbal needle he is apt to thrust at any given moment, often without warning, occasionally without discretion.

The prolific offense that made the University of Florida a football nirvana throughout the 1990s, turning Southeastern Conference foes into road kill along the college highway.

Even though Spurrier has changed his workday from Saturday afternoons to Sundays and his locale from Gainesville, Fla., to the nation's capital, not much figures to change this fall.

What Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder got when he hired Spurrier in January was the whole dynamic package, from golf aficionado to offensive mastermind to quick wit.

Spurrier, 57, has a folksy manner, but it doesn't hide an undeniable swagger. He can be charming and humble, but he can also be irritating - if you're on the other side. He has the ability to tease and torment opponents, as he proved at Florida.

This is a coach who once called rival Florida State "Free Shoes University" after a shoe scandal hit Tallahassee. It's a coach who once mocked then-Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning's decision to return for his senior year: "Peyton Manning came back to win the Citrus Bowl again. You can't spell Citrus without the UT."

Spurrier is, quite simply, a lightning rod on an NFL horizon of muffled thunder. The good news is, he says he doesn't plan to change.

"No, Mr. Snyder didn't hire me to copy NFL coaches," Spurrier said brightly. "He hired me to try to coach the way I've done in the past."

It's what Spurrier has done in the past that makes this season with the Redskins so intriguing. When the team opens training camp today at Carlisle, Pa., there will be lots of reminders of his storied past.

Among the most prominent are two of the Redskins' quarterbacks, Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel. Matthews was the quarterback on Spurrier's first three teams in Gainesville. He went 28-8 as a starter with two SEC titles and 74 touchdown passes. Wuerffel topped that by winning Spurrier's only national title in 1996.

Under Spurrier, the Gators scored more than 35 points a game, averaging 310 passing yards and 460 total yards. Their prodigious attack became known as the Fun 'N' Gun offense, propelling Florida to a 122-27-1 record with seven SEC championships in his 12 seasons.

But Florida's top talent didn't always translate into top NFL talent, either at quarterback or wide receiver. Matthews, 32, has just 15 starts (and eight wins) in eight NFL seasons. Wuerffel, 28, is 2-4 as a starter, working on his fourth team.

Spurrier's other quarterback options are Sage Rosenfels, a fourth-round draft pick a year ago, and Patrick Ramsey, a first-rounder this year. Matthews, who was the Chicago Bears' starter last season before a Week 2 injury sidelined him, is expected to win the job.

It is that smorgasbord of castoff or inexperienced quarterbacks that has the rest of the league wondering what kind of results Spurrier will be able to effect in his first season. Many are skeptical - but not those who know him.

"Everybody is doubting him, saying he can't do this, he can't do that," said Ravens wide receiver Travis Taylor, who played three years at Florida. "The only thing they're doing is feeding his drive to do better. He's going to do whatever it takes for him to succeed.

"He hates losing."

Spurrier seems amused at the media perspective that Matthews and Wuerffel will lessen his chances for immediate success.

"If I had gone to Florida and hired Shane and Danny, [reporters] would say, `Man, Spurrier and this team are in good shape. He's been coaching these guys for eight years. They're ready to play,' " Spurrier said.

"Up here, they don't understand that. They say, `He's just getting them because he had them at Florida.' "

Spurrier leaves no doubt he expects to succeed. Assessing his entire quarterback class, he said: "These guys can play. ... It'll be fun proving the critics wrong. That's what [reporters] get paid to do. They don't get paid to promote, they get paid to criticize. [But] they're not going to ruin our day."

It is the competitive side of Spurrier that defines virtually every characterization of him. The son of a Presbyterian minister in Johnson City, Tenn., he was a three-year starter at quarterback for Florida. Twice he was first-team All-American and he won the Heisman Trophy in 1966. Seven of his 22 college wins were fourth-quarter comebacks. In one game, he kicked a game-winning, 46-yard field goal - and he wasn't the team's regular kicker.

Although he had an undistinguished 10-year career in the NFL, mostly as a backup with the San Francisco 49ers, Spurrier honed his golf game - and his intense nature - as a pro.

"He's an extremely competitive person in just about everything he does," said Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. "Whether it's walking on the treadmill, watching us play basketball, golf.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.