SI Vault
Peter King
September 02, 2002
New coach Steve Spurrier is sure to be the most-watched rookie in the NFL this season
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September 02, 2002

Washington Redskins

New coach Steve Spurrier is sure to be the most-watched rookie in the NFL this season

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at San Francisco


Open date



at Tennessee




at Green Bay





at Seattle


at Jacksonville


at N.Y. Giants




at Dallas (Thurs.)





at Philadelphia





NFL rank: 9
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .525
Games against playoff teams: 5

So what kind of "ball plays" will we see out of Steve Spurrier this fall when he tries to conquer the only football world left for him to overrun? Consider that one day during training camp he summoned cornerback Champ Bailey to the offensive huddle, pointed to the right flank and said, "Line up over there as a wide receiver, and run a reverse. We're going to flip it to [running back] Stephen Davis. He'll flip it to you. You run around left end. O.K.?" No preparation, no script. Just run the play as though you were on the playground.

"This game is not that complicated," Spurrier says, and he really means it. That's why in his rookie NFL season, the former Florida coach will likely throw more changeups at unsuspecting defenses than he ever threw in college. He'll spring a few surprises, such as putting a fast defensive player like Bailey in on offense. And he'll attack downfield as no other team except St. Louis does. "We've looked quite a bit at the Rams," Spurrier says, "and I've found some new little ball plays. I like what [ St. Louis coach] Mike Martz does."

Says Redskins quarterback Danny Wuerffel, who helped Spurrier win a national championship at Florida, "If we're playing a team with a strong middle linebacker, he will use plays to try to make that middle linebacker run around like a free safety. People might be surprised that he won't go in with one game plan each week. He'll try to neutralize the best players on the other side. His offense is always evolving."

When SI asked veteran football people around the league to name the biggest adjustment Spurrier would have to make in the pros, two answers stood out: curbing his ego and realizing the complexity of NFL defenses.

"There's no question about it," says Denver coach Mike Shanahan. "When you win at Duke and when you win at the rate that he did at Florida, you're something special. You can coach anywhere. There won't be a big difference between coaching offense at Florida and coaching offense at Washington. The big difference is that sometimes you have to rein in your ego. You have to learn to win 17-10 or 13-9, and enjoy it. One thing I've learned in this league is that it's not an entertainment game, it's a winning game."

Martz, who knows a thing or two about winning with a wide-open offense in the NFL, says, "The thing that's as important as the receivers' running great routes and being great athletes is the quarterback's protection. That's what we work on harder than anything—keeping rushers off Kurt Warner. You might not notice that from watching us make big plays, but believe me, it's a lot harder perfecting that than it is running the routes. Spurrier's linemen and his backs are going to have to really elevate their games."

It seems that everyone except Spurrier is worried about the Redskins' inexperienced quarterbacks. As camp broke, Wuerffel was leading the race to be the starter, even though four other teams had tossed him aside in the last three years, citing poor arm strength and lead feet. Was the rest of the league wrong about him? "I watched Danny play for four years at Florida," Spurrier says, talking down his nose to the media, "and he won every year, and he became the highest-rated quarterback in the history of college football. Unless someone has passed him, I figure he still is. Everyone mentions his arm strength. From what I see, his passes seem to get there."

"When Coach Spurrier got this job," says Wuerffel, "I was happy for him, for the challenge, and for the NFL because everyone will love his brand of football. And I was happy for me because I thought if I could get here somehow, I'd have a chance to compete."

The league awaits the results of Spurrierball. As Giants co-owner Wellington Mara says, "He seems like a very smart person. I think he'll adjust to our game—or he'll make us adjust to his."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]