The gift—a small green satchel containing a plas-L tic 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 satchel.
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 same field."
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 level?"