Don't expect Spurrier to play politics
By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN The Magazine

Should those rumors be true about Bill Maher, and he fall victim to slumping ratings and an injudicious and insensitive slip of the tongue in the days immediately following the tragic events of Sept. 11, then we've got a candidate to replace the host of the floundering talk show.

Steve Spurrier
Steve Spurrier has never shied away from speaking his mind.
The NFL in general, and specifically you folks in Washington more accustomed to straight men like Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner and even the sainted Joe Gibbs - principally a group well-schooled in the art of rambling and dull coachspeak - had better get ready for the uproarious, unchecked and definitely unedited rants of Steve Spurrier.

Consider yourself forewarned because the new coach of the Washington Redskins, the franchise's fourth different sideline boss in three seasons, is going to unleash a filibuster of frankness rarely witnessed in a league known for its silly niceties. Uncensored, unsanitized and unafraid to share his what-me-worry views of the NFL world on anyone who will listen, and there will be plenty of ears tuned in, Spurrier will be more fun in the capital than a good, ol'-fashioned sex scandal.

Yep, the man in the visor was politically incorrect and proud of it long before ABC decided to transform late night candor into a cash cow, and he's not going to change now. At age 56, and prepared to bank $25 million from the coffers of Daniel Snyder over the next five years, Spurrier is considered by some peers to be bombastic. Not a bad analysis since, on the field and off it, he is the consummate bombardier.

And when it comes to choosing his targets, he is characteristically indiscriminate, the purveyor of a verbal scorched-earth policy that figures to turn volatility into frivolity in quick fashion.

"There are people who will say something and, the minute it comes out of their mouth, it's like they want to shove it back in," Spurrier said at the recent NFL pre-draft combine workouts, where he acknowledged a degree of ennui at watching league prospects run around in their underswear and T-shirts. "Me, if I say it, well, I've said it and I'll live with it. Sometimes I don't know when to stop, so if you get me started, anything is liable to come out."

In the NFL, where most coaches stick even more religiously to the script than the combatants in a WWF championship tilt, that's not all bad.

His peers might, in time, come to regard Spurrier as a bag of hot air. Truth be told, and the loyal fanatics who bleed Redskins burgundy will be the first to discover this, the former University of Florida coach is actually a breath of fresh air. Forget the trite-and-true rhetoric of the past, folks, because Spurrier is anything but hackneyed.

Instead of cliché, he will be clever, even wise-assed at times. But in the world of Spurrier there are no sacred cows and that's a phenomenon for the No Fun League. In fact, brace yourself Washingtonians, because nothing is off base for Spurrier, not even taking a backhanded slap at the players he inherited from the former regime. For the son of a preacher man, his dad a respected Presbyterian minister, Spurrier is sharp tongued.

But he is also sharp, period, and that bodes well for one of the NFL's dysfunctional franchises.

Some people kind of have an (inherent) governor that stops the words on their way from the brain to the mouth. But if he thinks something, it usually ends up coming out of his mouth, and that's just the way it is. He is no shrinking violet. He calls 'em like he sees 'em.
Danny Wuerffel, Redskins quarterback

He took one look at the offense employed by Schottenheimer in 2001, probably caught a snooze or two before the videocassette ran its course, and flat-out assessed that the team stunk. Actually, he didn't stay stunk. The exact phraseology was "weren't very good." But let him get his feet on the ground and "stunk" will become, trust us on this, the final verdict before he has an underling torch the tapes from the 2001 season in a manner Richard Nixon only wished he had done.

In a city where the scrutiny is so close they sometimes parse mere syllables, Spurrier will not mince any words and, if his verbal salvos result in some of his peers being wounded by all of the flying shrapnel, well, so be it. Assuming his balky knee ever quits squeaking, Michael Jordan will shoot again from the top of the key. Jaromir Jagr will rip from the top of the circle. Spurrier will fire from the lip with even less conscience than the city's other two most notable gunners.

"Some people kind of have an (inherent) governor that stops the words on their way from the brain to the mouth," said quarterback Danny Wuerffel, who played for Spurrier in Gainesville and will again in Washington. "But if he thinks something, it usually ends up coming out of his mouth, and that's just the way it is. He is no shrinking violet. He calls 'em like he sees 'em."

Fortunately for the Redskins, and Snyder, and the fans who are tired of defining scintillating offense as allowing tailback Stephen Davis to actually run around the end once in a while, the guy can coach, too. He is a master of conjuring up a grease board full of pretty O's. As for the 'X' side of the game, well, Spurrier doesn't dabble in defense and will leave that element of the game to coordinator Marvin Lewis.

The study and dissection of offense is his obsession. At the quarterback position, which he played well enough for the Gators to have won the Heisman Trophy in 1966, he is a marionette. It is as if he plays the position vicariously through whomever is the current practitioner, and in his heart will always believe he could have carried out his directives far better than the guy on the field.

Spurrier doesn't want to hear about salary cap issues. He didn't need total control over all the personnel matters that take away from coaching. He will allow Snyder some rein and let the owner fret over many elements while he himself hones his seven-iron stroke. The game, for him, is three things: money and winning and ego. He's got all three in spades.

After the 1996 season, when the Atlanta Falcons were seeking a coach to replace the dismissed June Jones, he agreed to be interviewed for the job by team officials. His only request was that there be no negotiations, that Atlanta team president Taylor Smith arrive with a contract, and that the numbers filled in represent the best offer the Falcons could make. Smith subsequently called off the meeting and, honestly, it was no big deal to Spurrier.

He knew he would ultimately get another chance. He knew his ego would dictate he depart his college job for the pros. When you are as good as Spurrier, you don't want to go to your grave wondering why you didn't challenge yourself at the highest level. Now the man known for years as "The Evil Genius" to all the Southeastern Conference teams he regularly defeated, need not question whether he can do it, because he's about to find out.

Spurrier will find, in relatively short order, that the overall speed of the game compresses the field by 15-20 percent in the NFL. There won't be many instances when his wide receivers are running five yards beyond the secondary, or when he can get away with a limp-armed passer. But eventually he will win a lot of games.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for


Len Pasquarelli Archive

The Sports Guy goes to Washington

10 Burning Questions for Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser

Wiley: 'Skin deep in D.C.

Email story
Most sent
Print story

espn Page 2 index