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With Spurrier, end zone or bust

Not taking his tirades, benchings personally is only part of key to success, his QBs say.

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 23, 2002
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Playing quarterback for Redskins coach Steve Spurrier is no picnic.

Every throw is watched. Every play is scrutinized.

For those who have thrived in his system, the rewards (championships and passing records) have been plentiful. But for those who have struggled, repeated benchings have broken hearts and crushed souls.

"He's always going to be harder on the quarterbacks," said former Florida quarterback Terry Dean, who played for Spurrier from 1990-94. "That's the position he played. When he draws up a play, he thinks it can be a touchdown. And if it's not, something had to go wrong."

Dean, more than any other Spurrier quarterback, felt Spurrier's wrath.

"Some guys take it personally, and some don't," he said. "I take everything personal. I can certainly sympathize with anybody that's gotten yelled at on the sideline."

Dean, Spurrier's first recruit, was redshirted in 1990, backed up Shane Matthews for two seasons, then battled Danny Wuerffel for the starting spot in 1993 and '94.

He was believed to be the leading Heisman Trophy candidate early in 1994, but a poor performance during a loss to Auburn sent him to the bench permanently.

"He's coaching all the time," Dean said. "If you bumped into him in the middle of campus, he'd be asking you about the third and 8 we had on the 40-yard line and saying, "What were you thinking?' He's always thinking about football, and you have to think the way he does."

One key to success under Spurrier is learning his offense. Another is learning to deal with his personality.

"All you really need to be successful is somebody who will listen," said Redskins assistant coach Noah Brindise, a walkon quarterback who became a key contributor under Spurrier at Florida.

Matthews and Wuerffel, both now playing for Spurrier in Washington, picked up Spurrier's system relatively fast.

But others, including Dean, Doug Johnson, Jesse Palmer and current Florida standout Rex Grossman, struggled to get a grasp.

"You have to be intelligent," Dean said. "That's a complicated system. Routes change and formations change purely depending on a defense. If a defense rolls to one coverage, (the play) changes. And if it rolls the other way, it changes to something else.

"You have to be able to think on your feet. He wants every position to do their job, but particularly the QB because ultimately the QB directs everything else. He's overly sensitive with that position."

When John Reaves was Spurrier's quarterback for the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits, he more than once found himself on the receiving end of a sideline tirade.

But Reaves, who later coached under Spurrier and credits him for resurrecting his career, said, "It was usually justified. He expects you to play well. And if you make mistakes with things he covered, at times he can lose his patience.

"But he doesn't mean anything by it. It's not personal. He just wants you to do what you're coached to do."

Once after throwing a costly interception, Reaves was benched. But after Tampa Bay fell behind 21-0 the next week, Spurrier turned to Reaves and said, "Get back in there."

Tampa Bay lost, but Reaves reclaimed his job.

"That benching was a blessing in disguise," Reaves said. "I got a different perspective and settled down. Everything is constructive criticism with Steve. He likes to take it to another level. If you want to be mediocre, go somewhere else."

Matthews was Spurrier's first quarterback at Florida and one of the lucky few to play for Spurrier who never got benched.

Like Wuerffel, who led the Gators to the 1996 national title and was not bothered by Spurrier's antics, Matthews said he has the ability to listen to Spurrier's critique while letting the coach's screaming "go in one ear and out the other."

"I think Shane and Danny have similar personalities," said Bill Matthews, Shane's father. "They understand what Spurrier is saying, and they're not going to let it bother them. But they also know if they don't perform, they're not going to be out there."

"Danny and Shane are humble guys," Reaves said. "They realize Spurrier's goal is to win. And their goal is to win. That's the common denominator."

Dean said he believes Spurrier has mellowed in recent years. He said the two mended their relationship a few years ago after having a "bad fallout" at Florida. Now he considers himself a Spurrier fan.

"I think he will absolutely tear up the NFL," Dean said. "I told a bunch of people to take $1,000 and put it on the Redskins to win the whole thing (this year).

"It's like my dad says, Spurrier is a lot of things. Dumb ain't one of them."

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