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Peter King
January 21, 2002
What has Steve Spurrier gotten himself into?
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January 21, 2002

Playing The Skins Game

What has Steve Spurrier gotten himself into?

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As Steve Spurrier leaves Florida to become the highest-paid coach in the NFL—he signed a $25 million, five-year deal with the Redskins on Monday—the $64,000 question is: How will he cope with losing? Winning two thirds of your games every year at Florida is a near lock; winning two thirds of your games every year in the NFL is nearly impossible.

"I'm not planning on losing a whole lot," Spurrier told SI on Monday. "I understand it's a possibility because there are no Vanderbilts in the NFL. But I'm not a real good loser. I don't really want to get good at it."

Nobody does. But in a league in which the Broncos Mike Shanahan, one of the brightest and most organized coaches around, can go only 25-23 over the past three years with zero playoff wins, losing is a reality. Factors like the salary cap guarantee that. As Browns coach Butch Davis, who jumped from a college job at Miami last January, says, "When you're told, 'I know you don't want this guy, but we can't cut him because of the cap,' or 'We have to hang onto this guy for two more years until we can take the cap hit,' that hurts." Spurrier is walking into one of the league's salary-cap nightmares: The $100 million in player salaries that Washington owner Daniel Snyder doled out in 2000—including an absurd $8 million signing bonus to the aging Deion Sanders—ensures that the Skins will be hamstrung for several years to come.

Spurrier also enters the NFL during a volatile time for coaches. Tony Dungy, Dennis Green, Jim Mora and, to a lesser extent, Marty Schottenheimer all succeeded in turning teams around in recent seasons, and for their efforts, they were all fired by impatient owners in the last three weeks. Spurrier should feel fortunate that he hit it off with the mercurial Snyder in several meetings over the past few years, culminating in a take-it-or-leave-it offer from Snyder last Friday night in Florida. " Dan Snyder is one of the biggest reasons I'm here," says Spurrier. "He loves the team. He wants to make it work."

Spurrier is a threat to succeed because of his great offensive mind. "He has a way of creating space in the passing game and teaching offense better than anyone I've ever seen," says TV analyst and former NFL quarterback Gary Danielson. "I don't think he'll last very long, because the extracurricular things will get to him. But he'll be hard to beat while he's there."