The head ball coach reflects on his first year in the NFL

Spurrier's learning curve

Published: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 12:35 a.m.

Steve Spurrier wasted little time to leave the cold of Washington, where he was snowbound on Christmas Day, for the golf courses of Florida.

Enlarge |

Washington head coach Steve Spurrier's first year in the NFL ended with a 7-9 record. While the Redskins were out of the playoff hunt earlier than expeted, they were also only a few plays away from being right in the middle of the race.

(AP Photo)



A closer look at the Washington Redskins' opponents next season, Steve Spurrier's second as head coach


  • Philadelphia Eagles
  • New York Giants
  • Dallas Cowboys
  • New Orleans Saints
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Seattle Seahawks
  • New York Jets
  • New England Patriots

  • Philadelphia Eagles
  • New York Giants
  • Dallas Cowboys
  • Atlanta Falcons
  • Carolina Panthers
  • Chicago Bears
  • Miami Dolphins
  • Buffalo Bills

  • One day, to be exact.

    One year after leaving Florida and declaring himself a free agent for the NFL, Spurrier returned to his home state for a little golf and relaxation. And like the man who replaced him as the Gator coach, how he deals with his learning curve will have a lot to do with whether or not his second season as the Washington Redskins head coach is an improvement.

    "I learned a lot," he said. "I learned that these teams in the NFL are pretty dadgum good. I learned that a coach who has been with his team a little while has better control of these guys. We had too many fumbles and silly penalties. Hopefully, we can get to the level where we don't do that.

    "And I learned that we have to get some better players at times. I probably brought too many Gators to Washington. I don't want to be critical of any of those guys. I'm sure they're thinking we had a bad offense. It was tough on the Gators we brought in. I had to go overboard with them. They had to play better than the other guys to get on the field."

    In all, Spurrier signed seven former Florida players. Three - receivers Willie Jackson, Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green - eventually were released. Receiver Chris Doering lasted the season and running back Robert Gillespie made the practice squad. Quarterbacks Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel were benched.

    Doering has a chance to be back. The two quarterbacks are free to go.

    "I told them both that if they can find something better, get a better opportunity, go ahead and pursue it," Spurrier said. "If they don't find something else, we'll probably sign one of them, but not both."

    Spurrier's first year in the NFL ended with a 7-9 record. While the Redskins were out of the playoff hunt earlier than expected, they were also only a few plays away from being right in the middle of the race.

    Which is why anyone thinking the head ball coach is regretting his decision to leave Florida - or that he might some day return - doesn't get it.

    Asked if he missed college football, Spurrier said, "Shoot no, I didn't have time to think about the college game."

    Nor does he regret stepping away a year before what many felt was his perfect fit - in Jacksonville - came open.

    "No, with the offer (Washington owner Dan Snyder) made me, I'd have been foolish not to take it," he said.

    The five-year, $25 million deal made him the highest paid coach in football. But he says he would walk away from that money if he doesn't get the job done in the next two years.

    "I mean it," he said. "If we have three straight losing records, I don't want to fight it anymore. But I'm really encouraged with the play of (rookie quarterback) Patrick Ramsey. The last four games, we averaged 400 yards a game. He's a tough kid. He's our quarterback."

    His first season as an NFL coach was not without frustrations. And criticism. Pundits were lined up waiting for him to fail and when the Redskins' season went south, they fired away.

    But it hasn't changed Spurrier's resolve to make Washington a winner.

    He has named an offensive coordinator to allow him to be more of a head coach, although he'll still be calling the plays. He has taken a stronger role in the selection and signing of players. His first goal - to get a speedy receiver.

    "We need one real fast wide receiver," he said. "And some other things here and there. Most of our money was tied up in the defense. And naming Hue Jackson our coordinator will allow me more contact with the entire team. I found myself strictly on offense. Most of the head coaches who call the plays have a coordinator.

    "There were some frustrations. Plays I used to call against certain defenses that used to work were not quite working. And we fumbled the ball way too much. So there were guys ready to say, `I told you that offense wouldn't work in the NFL.' But there was also some fun. I probably placed our expectations way too high. I came to Florida and said we had a chance to win the SEC championship. I thought we could win our division championship in Washington."

    But in a division that included two playoff teams, that didn't happen. The NFL East got even tougher this week when Bill Parcells was named the coach at Dallas.

    "Toughest division in the league," Spurrier said. "The Parcells thing sort of was expected. With the dough they're throwing around now, it's hard to sit in the broadcast booth."

    In all, Spurrier coached 22 games in 2002 - the Orange Bowl, five preseason games and 16 regular-season games. Each of the pro games provided a new lesson in football at a different level. There were painful lessons to be learned, but winning the last two games of the season helped.

    But the Spurrier who was hitting golf balls at Marsh Creek this week was no less optimistic than the one who took the job at Washington in January or the one I talked to when the Redskins were 5-9.

    He gets it. He understands so much more about the NFL now. The time back in Florida will be a refresher for a coach eager to see what 2003 will bring.

    Spurrier is a year older than the last time he coached at Florida, but much more than a year wiser.

    He even understands the NFL officials a little better.

    "The referees were different than I thought they'd be," he said. "I thought there is no way the refs can get you in the NFL with instant replay. But most of the calls aren't reviewable. We'd throw the red flag out, and the ref would say there is nothing to review.

    "In college, the bad guys, they get rid of. I've never heard of a referee being suspended in this league. We get some good ones every now and then, but you're sort of at the mercy of the refs."

    From that statement you can see one thing - everything may be different for Steve Spurrier a year later, but he hasn't changed.

    You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at or by calling 374-5053.

    Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

    Comments are currently unavailable on this article

    ▲ Return to Top