(Nov. 7)--He arrived with much fanfare. Steve Spurrier was made the highest-paid coach in NFL history for the expressed purpose of leading the Washington Redskins to the Super Bowl, and the pressure to do that in Washington is especially intense.
"I just hope we're not all let down again," former Nevada senator Paul Laxalt said.
Who knows, maybe one of those talk-show callers is the president of the United States.
If Spurrier has worn out his welcome in Washington, his spirits should be lifted this Sunday in Jacksonville, where fans have eagerly awaited the former Gator coach's return to northeast Florida. Spurrier remains the most popular coach in northeast Florida football history.
It's the game of the year in Jacksonville. This is the game that'll probably define the Jaguars season. A win over the Redskins (4-4) will quiet the Spurrier faction that wanted Wayne Weaver to dump Coughlin and hire Spurrier. But a loss to the Redskins would be sure to ignite the "Talk Show Subject of the Year" all over again.
Meanwhile, Spurrier has his own problems in Washington, where his name doesn't mean quite as much and patience will wear thin much more quickly. Spurrier is the coach of a team Marty Schottenheimer led to eight wins in its final 11 games last season. Expectations were for the Redskins to follow that success with a playoff berth. After all, the Redskins have impressive personnel on defense, and Spurrier is an instant offense guy, right? Wrong.
The architect of the "Fun 'n Gun" offense that tore through the SEC is now the head coach of a Redskins team that has been in the bottom third of the league's total offense rankings throughout the season. And how about this? The Redskins' running game is ranked higher than the team's passing attack.
Maybe that'll change now that Spurrier has settled on a quarterback. First it was former Gators Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel, then it was first-round pick Patrick Ramsey. Now, Spurrier has accepted his fate and has installed Matthews as the starter for the remainder of the season.
"Overall, we believe Shane Matthews gives our team the best chance to win games, simple as that," Spurrier said of his decision. "Shane is our quarterback. He's the guy who takes us however far we go this year."
When Spurrier made that announcement, disappointment in Washington was at a peak and support for Spurrier was eroding quickly. All of a sudden there was talk Spurrier was so exasperated by his pro coaching experience that he might bolt back to college coaching when the season was over. Spurrier addressed those rumors recently. He told reporters he will "definitely" remain with the Redskins.
However, the Redskins mortgaged a sizable chunk of their future salary caps by signing players such as Jesse Armstead, Jeremiah Trotter and Renaldo Wynn in free agency, and this year's draft has produced nothing other than Ramsey's promise for the future. The situation in Washington is not poised for a quick turnaround. Spurrier's commitment may have to be for the long haul, and so must owner Daniel Snyder's commitment to Spurrier.
"I think our personnel is good enough for us to win. We're not that bad. We have players who are capable of playing well and we, as coaches, have to get them to play that way. That's our job," Spurrier said.
"I'm a little frustrated," he confessed, "but I've seen these things happen before. We've got a good plan in place and eventually we'll make it work."
Linebacker LaVar Arrington is the heart and soul of the Redskins defense, now and for the long-term future. In Arrington, Jaguars fans will see one of the game's true stars this Sunday. He does it all.
On offense, running back Stephen Davis is the Redskins' star. Davis has been good enough and the Redskins' quarterbacks bad enough to actually make Spurrier lean on the running game. But Davis "questionable" this Sunday due to a knee injury, and the load may fall again on reserve running back Kenny Watson.
This Sunday's game is clearly a major event in Jacksonville and a possible turning point in the season for Coughlin and the Jaguars, but Spurrier desperately needs a win to stem criticism that he may be in over his head in the pro game.
"I don't need to defend myself," he said. "No one needs to defend me. People can say what they want. When you don't win, that's going to happen. What we need to do is win some games."