Spurrier looks to reload in NFL with Redskins

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 24, 2002

Sports Columnist

He’s been called many things during his coaching career.

Among the ones which are suitable for print are "The Evil Genius, Grimace, and Steve Superior."

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I hereby submit a new nickname to the list: Paladin.

Remember the old gunfighter’s slogan –

"Have Gun, Will Travel".

And that’s exactly what Steve Spurrier is doing for the first time in 12 years, since he first established his dynasty in Gainesville. Although in his case, perhaps "Have Fun-and-Gun, will Travel" is the more appropriate slogan.

As difficult as it is to believe, Spurrier is trading in the familiar bright orange golf shirt and blue slacks for the maroon and gold of the Washington Redskins. But, as he was quick to point out in a recent press conference, "they are NOT Florida State colors."

Most had suspected that Spurrier had a hankerin’ to give the NFL a try for some time now, and his agreement to a $25 million deal with the ‘Skins finally confirmed the suspicions. He made no bones about his desire to do so upon his resignation from Florida. The route his quest would take him, however, was a surprise to many.

It was fun while it lasted, though – playing matchmaker between the coach and the many potential suitors around the league.

There were the Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts, both of whom play indoors where inclement weather would never threaten to slow the transplanted Gator aerial attack. With the Vikings he would have QB Daunte Culpepper and WR Randy Moss with whom to unveil his legendary offensive playbook. And the Colts held the promise of Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, and Edgerrin James to do the same.

The San Diego Chargers featured a climate well suited to the Florida boy, as well as veteran playmaker Doug Flutie and up-and-coming Drew Brees to learn his system.

The team that seemed to be the odds-on favorite to win the Spurrier Sweepstakes was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Besides the aforementioned friendly climate and the possibility of not having to necessarily move from Gainesville, he has quite a personal history with the city of Tampa, some of which he would probably love the opportunity to make people forget.

Spurrier was the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976, the first year expansion team with the hideous orange uniforms. They failed to win a single game that year, prompting then-Coach McKay to remark, "we can’t win at home, we can’t win on the road, and we just can’t figure out anyplace else to play."

In 1983, Spurrier returned to coach the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits. It was there that he first was able to display his coaching skills in the professional ranks, compiling a 35-19 record over three seasons. His Bandits were the first in pro football history to produce a 4000-yard passer and two 1000-yard rushers in the same season.

His success during his 12 seasons at the University of Florida is well-established. Yet it was only while examining the numbers that I became truly aware of what this man had accomplished.

Five SEC titles and one national title. Finished in the Top Ten each of the last eight years. His Gators fell out of the polls for only one week in his 12 years at Florida. Ranked in the top 15 every season, with an average final ranking of 6.8. The only coach in history to win 120 games in his first 12 years at one school.

The question is: does NCAA success translate to NFL success?

Detractors will say that, despite his reputation for quarterback development, none of them have had any success at "the next level". They point out that Redskins QB Tony Banks is no Rex Grossman and that Washington doesn’t have the players to implement Spurrier’s offense. It seems as though Spurrier would be packing a deadly weapon…with no bullets.

Well, as anyone knows, when you’re short on bullets, you go buy more, and there are plenty of bullets around.

Rifle-armed QB Jeff George was released by Redskin coach Marty Schottenheimer early in the season and was never picked up by another team. The Patriots’ Drew Bledsoe and the Saints’ Jeff Blake have had past success, but recently lost their starting jobs. Mark Brunell will likely be released by the Jaguars due to the salary cap. In fact, two of Spurrier’s prize pupils, Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel, occupy the bench in Chicago. Not to mention Oregon QB Joey Harrington, who will be available in the upcoming draft. And according to his agent, ex-Cowboy Troy Aikman may be intrigued by the opportunity to make a comeback to run Spurrier’s offense.

It’s not as though the cupboard’s bare in Washington, anyway. Spurrier inherits quite a few familiar faces in former SEC opponents OL Chris Samuels, RB Stephen Davis, and CB Champ Bailey as well as LB LaVarr Arrington, and veterans CB Darrell Green and DE Bruce Smith. Wideout Michael Westbrook also expressed interest in returning to the ‘Skins now that Schottenheimer is gone.

It seems likely, and probably wise, that Spurrier wants to surround himself with quite a few co-workers who are familiar with his offense. He has hired nine former Florida assistants for his staff, including his son, Steve Jr., from the Oklahoma staff. If he is able to bring in a few of his former stars, such as free-agent WR Jaquez Green, WR draft pick Jabar Gaffney, and maybe Wuerffel, who ran Spurrier’s offense to absolute perfection, he may make his mark on the league sooner than expected.

Not so long ago, another so-called offensive "genius" was brought up from the college ranks to try out his legendary playbook in the pro game. Maybe you remember him – Bill Walsh? He showed that a potent college offense, if implemented properly, can prove potent in the pros as well.

And much like Wuerffel, the quarterback who ran that offense to perfection had, not the strongest arm or the quickest feet, but a complete grasp of the system. Maybe you remember him also – Joe Montana?

My prediction is that Spurrier has the Redskins in the playoffs next year, and within three seasons is at least playing for the NFC Championship.

Maybe more.