The gift--a small green satchel containing a plastic putter, a
short length of green carpet and three golf balls--sits unused
in a musty corner of Steve Spurrier's office. Marty
Schottenheimer left it behind when he was evicted on Jan. 13
after one season by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who
couldn't wait to sign Spurrier to a five-year, $25 million
contract as the Skins' fourth coach in three seasons. A note
written in Schottenheimer's flowing cursive, black ink on a
small piece of yellow legal paper, remains attached to the
All the Best.
Meaning what? All the best working for the NFL's version of
Richie Rich? All the best trying to win games when you knock off
early instead of working 20 hours a day like other NFL coaches?
All the best taking that passing crap that worked for you at
Florida and using it in the pro game? "Awww," says Spurrier,
carefully putting Schottenheimer's note back on the golf set. "I
just thought it was nice of Marty to give me a little something
for my new job here." But make no mistake. He's been on the job
barely two months, and all the world remains a question, and
every day's an ongoing search for answers for Spurrier, whose
departure from Florida shocked Gator Nation and the college
football community. Following a 12-year run as the Head Ball
Coach (as he called himself), Spurrier is starting over.
Last Friday morning Spurrier stood at his office window
overlooking the Skins' northern Virginia practice area. "Four
full practice fields, imagine that," he said. "Everybody thought
we had the best facilities in the world at Florida, and we
didn't have but two practice fields--and one of them was only 80
yards." So much is new. Spurrier imagined himself moving to a
metropolis only to find that there's just one stoplight between
Redskin Park and his sprawling new house in Leesburg, Va., where
he moved two weeks ago with his wife, Jerri, and 15-year-old
son, Scotty, the youngest of their four children. In Gainesville
he worked on the third floor of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, at the
center of a campus beehive; Redskin Park, with a single
building, is isolated in the rolling hills of Ashburn, Va.,
nearly an hour from Capitol Hill. It could be Iowa.
Spurrier's crash course in NFL 101 has already created some
revealing moments. On March 3, after he traded for journeyman
quarterback Danny Wuerffel, who won the 1996 Heisman Trophy while
leading Florida to the national championship, Spurrier called
Wuerffel in New Orleans to give him the news. At the end of their
conversation the coach asked, "So, do you have to come on up here
and sign something?"
"Well, no, Coach," Wuerffel answered sheepishly. "I'm under
contract, and since I was traded, my contract just rolls over."
"All right then!" Spurrier chirped. "See you at minicamp."
Not long after hiring Marvin Lewis, the architect of the
Baltimore Ravens' dominating 2000 Super Bowl defense, and making
him the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the NFL ($850,000 a
year, with incentives that could push the total past $1 million),
Spurrier asked Lewis which fields the offense would use during
practice and which the defense would use. "At Florida you
probably had a second team, a third team and a fourth team,"
Lewis recalls telling Spurrier. "Here we don't even have a second
team. We have 53 players. That's it. We practice together--on the
Enjoy the comic relief while it lasts, because Spurrier has
buried his face in a video monitor since taking the job and has
seen little in the NFL to sway him from his belief that his
offense will score points in bunches with the spread-the-field
passing game that tore up college football for more than a
decade at Florida and, before that, at Duke. "I think it's all
very similar to what we see in college," says Spurrier. "There's
not a whole bunch of new defenses out there. Obviously the pros
play better, and they're better athletes, but it looks about the
same. We pitched it around in the USFL [1983 to '85]. We pitched
it around at Duke ['87 to '89]. We pitched it around at Florida.
I came here to see if we can pitch it around in the NFL. I don't
see why we can't."
The league awaits, part skeptical and just curious. "I think
we're all intrigued," says Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.
"Can he take the same style of offense and be successful at this
It gets better: Spurrier isn't only convinced that Florida's
offense can work in the NFL, but he's also determined to try it
with recycled Gators. In addition to Wuerffel he has picked up
former Florida wideouts Reidel Anthony (the 16th selection in
the 1997 draft, whose five-year NFL career bottomed out last
season when he caught 13 passes for 162 yards with the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers), Jacquez Green (a 1998 Bucs' second-round pick who
has 157 career catches) and Chris Doering (six catches in four
seasons and out of football in 2001). As of Monday the Redskins
were also in negotiation with the Chicago Bears over Shane
Matthews, another former Florida quarterback.
The perceived arrogance of Spurrier's turning Washington into
Gainesville North (he also brought six assistants from his
Florida staff, plus his son, Steve Jr., from Oklahoma) frosts
some around the NFL. "You can't win with those guys," says one
coach of Spurrier's player acquisitions, speaking on the
condition of anonymity.
Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese points out that
reclamation is a dodgy way to go and that it's often driven by
ego. "A lot of times a coach looks at a player who failed
someplace and says, 'I'm a better coach, I can get it done with
him,'" Reese says. "After the player comes to his team, he says,
'That other coach wasn't so bad.'"
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo cuts Spurrier some slack. "It
looks like a recipe for disaster, filling your roster with
homers, but take a look at what Jimmy Johnson did when he got to
Dallas," says Angelo of the University of Miami turned Dallas
Cowboys coach who signed a handful of former Hurricanes and won
his first Super Bowl four seasons later. "I'm guessing that
Spurrier has a feel for what he's doing. Offensively, everybody
knows he's got a special gift. He'll acclimate. Just watch."
The most intriguing move has been the signing of Wuerffel, who
in a five-year NFL career has played in 18 games, started six
and didn't take a snap last year as the Bears' third
quarterback. The Houston Texans selected him in last month's
expansion draft. Wuerffel is generally regarded as a weak-armed
failure, appearing soon on the NFL alumni website. Spurrier's
view is quite different. He thinks of Wuerffel as a soft-spoken
son of an Air Force chaplain who was smart, tough and resilient
in the face of withering blitzes. He recalls that Wuerffel threw
114 touchdown passes with a Division I-A record efficiency
rating (163.6) for the Gators and played the game of his life in
the 1997 Sugar Bowl national title game with 306 passing yards
and three touchdowns.
When he talked to Wuerffel on March 3, Spurrier promised him
nothing--not even a roster spot, for which Wuerffel will fight
with second-year man Sage Rosenfels, fifth-year pro Dameyune
Craig (a rarely used backup in four seasons with the Carolina
Panthers), possibly Matthews or Jeff Blake (a 10-year vet
recently released by the New Orleans Saints) and maybe even a
rookie taken in the draft. But Wuerffel will get a long look.
"Why hasn't Danny Wuerffel made it in this league?" says
Spurrier. "I don't know. That's what I told Mr. Snyder and [vice
president of football operations] Joe Mendes. I only know how he
played in our system, and he was a very good player. Same with
Reidel. We'll see if they can do it again."
Wuerffel is counting the days until the Redskins' first minicamp
begins on Monday. "One thing I've learned about the NFL is
you've got to play for somebody who believes in you, or you
don't have a chance," he says. "People have been asking me for
five years, 'Would Coach Spurrier's offense work in the NFL?'
Coach doesn't have an offense. He adapts to the defense every
week." (Case in point: During the Florida-Florida State 1996
regular-season meeting Wuerffel was knocked down 32 times in a
24-21 Seminoles victory. For the rematch in the Sugar Bowl,
Spurrier overhauled his blocking scheme, went to a more
aggressive shotgun and drilled the Seminoles 52-20.) He has
consistently created open space where others find only
congestion. "He makes sure receivers are open," says New York
Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi.
As for the signing of former Florida players, the best-case
scenario is that they're reborn with the Redskins. The
worst-case scenario is that they fail--but only after Spurrier
has the chance to get his offense in place with people who know
it. It's a no-lose deal. Plus "all the Gators we've signed were
cheap," says Spurrier. Consider that another lesson learned. Two
years ago Snyder gave contracts to aging stars Deion Sanders,
Bruce Smith, Jeff George and Mark Carrier totaling more than
$115 million. Only Smith, a 38-year-old defensive end, is still
on the roster, and even though Washington is $3 million under
the salary cap, Snyder has made it clear that free spending is
out, fiscal prudence is in. "I've learned this much: It's
important how you balance what you pay your players," says
Spurrier. "They made some mistakes around here with money two
years ago. People learn from their mistakes."
It's tempting to speculate about the over-under on when the
first Spurrier-Snyder contretemps will occur, given that we're
talking about sizable egos competing for the same small piece of
turf. Yet unlike Schottenheimer, Spurrier didn't ask for--or
receive--sweeping powers. "He's a ball coach," says Wuerffel.
"That's what he loves to do." It was Spurrier who urged Snyder
to hire Lewis when the defensive coordinator's contract expired
with the Ravens and Tampa Bay botched its chance to get him as
head coach. "That's the best move Spurrier has made," says
Angelo. Lewis will help meld graybeards like Smith with young
talent like linebacker LaVar Arrington and cornerback Champ
Bailey. He pushed for the free-agent signing of Pro Bowl
linebacker Jessie Armstead, just to put him near Arrington.
"Jessie played [on the Giants] with LT," Lewis says. "What a
great deal for a player like LaVar to be around somebody like
that." Spurrier won't go near the defense.
It was Snyder who brought in Mendes and rehired Vinny Cerrato as
player personnel director after a one-year hiatus to be part of
the committee on personnel decisions. "This is Mr. Snyder's
team, and he likes being involved," says Spurrier. "I don't
think he'll jump in much on players and things like that."
Spurrier, meanwhile, won't be sleeping on the soft black leather
couch in his office. As he sat at his desk leafing through a
blotter-sized calendar, he marveled at all his commitments.
"Three minicamps, 14 of what they call coaching sessions,"
Spurrier says. "There's plenty of time for us to be prepared
without using all those days. It's a long season; we're going to
pace ourselves or we'll be worn out before the real season
starts. People can get sick of football." For the record, he has
played three rounds of golf since taking the job.
Twice he has accompanied Snyder to black-tie functions in
Washington, including a March 1 benefit for the Larry King
Cardiac Foundation, at which he walked through a long receiving
line to shake hands with Vice President Cheney. "He's had some
heart problems, you know," says Spurrier. When it came his turn,
Spurrier introduced himself to Cheney and moved on. "He was just
saying, 'How are you doing?... How are you doing?...' and
shaking a lot of hands," says the Redskins' coach. "I don't
think Steve Spurrier made a real big impression on him."
Washington's opponents should be so fortunate. All the best to
Gainesville North frosts some.
Angelo says of Spurrier. "He'll acclimate. Just watch."