© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2002
TAMPA -- Steve Spurrier has a pretty good history of running up the score in homecoming games.
But when the former Gators coach returns to his adoptive state tonight, it's Spurrier's opponent who plans to show no mercy.
That's because Raymond James Stadium is not the Swamp, the NFL is not the NCAA and the Bucs defense is slightly better than Northern Illinois.
"I think any time someone is being touted, you look forward to that opportunity," Bucs safety John Lynch said. "I was teasing (defensive coordinator) Monte (Kiffin) the other day. I said, 'Monte, did you hear what Spurrier was saying?' He acted like he didn't care. But five minutes later, he came back asking, 'What did he say? What did he say?' So I think everybody's juices are flowing a little bit and we look forward to it."
It's true that under Spurrier the Redskins are 3-0 in the preseason, averaging more than 36 points and 391 yards passing. But much of that has come after the first quarter against third- and fourth-string players who won't have jobs in a week.
Meanwhile, the Bucs' first-string defense has not allowed a score in two preseason games and Tampa Bay is coming off a 20-0 victory at Jacksonville.
Spurrier knows piling up points might be difficult against the Bucs starters on defense, the same way his offense was dominated 16-0 when it counted last week vs. Pittsburgh.
At Florida, he would spend nearly every Sunday watching the Bucs play under Tony Dungy.
"I'm watching a little more closely this week, but fortunately we don't have to play those guys in the regular season," Spurrier said. "We're hoping to move the ball and score a little bit on them. They didn't give up any last week and Miami got 10, so their average now is five. We know it's going to be a struggle to get some points on that defense."
For the preseason, tonight's Bucs-Redskins game has more story lines than a daytime drama.
Former Bucs receivers Jacquez Green and Reidel Anthony will be in uniform for Washington and the Redskins have defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, the choice of general manager Rich McKay to replace Dungy until owners killed the deal.
Spurrier, who coached the USFL Bandits and turned down a chance to coach Tampa Bay in '96, was given the cold shoulder after resigning from Florida in January because Bucs owners believed they had a deal with Bill Parcells.
"Back in my coaching days at Florida, I envisioned one day that I would be coaching there or would hope to be coaching there, if I coached there in the NFL," Spurrier said. "When the time came after talking with Dan Snyder, the opportunity and challenge of coaching the Washington Redskins was something that really excited me. Once he talked to me I basically accepted that night. And the rest is history and here I am."
Spurrier is accompanied by a horde of naysayers who don't believe his offense will be successful. Those critics might want to consider the Redskins are averaging 444 yards and 6.4 per play.
Surely, those college plays won't work in the pros, will they?
"I think that's everyone's initial thought. But you turn on the tape and there's a method to his whole deal," Lynch said. "It's a good scheme. I've been impressed by the way early in the game he feels an opponent out and sees what they're going to give him, and later in the game you see him start to go in that attack mode and he does it well.
"I don't know if we'll be in there at that point when he goes into the attack mode. But the seconds and thirds will have an opportunity to go up against it."
To that end, the Bucs spent more time planing for Spurrier's offense than they have for any preseason opponent.
Kiffin kept his second- and third-team defense after practice several days to prepare for Spurrier's second-half attack. But even Spurrier admits there will be days when the Redskins offense struggles.
"The NFL is much, much tougher," Spurrier said. "You know, you get to practice all day. The players are quicker, a little stronger and a little faster. They disguise their defenses extremely well and the Bucs do a super job of disguising theirs. So you can't come up and audible a lot like we did in college."
In some ways, it might feel like college for Spurrier. Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks and safety Dexter Jackson played against his Gators for rival Florida State.
"I'm not at Florida State and he's not at Florida," Brooks said. "That's as far as it goes. We just want to get better. They have a very explosive offense, but we're not worried about them, we're worried about us. We have to keep the focus on our defense and continue to get better.
"It's like other defenses make mistakes and they capitalize. That's why I say we can't worry about what they're doing, just worry about what we're doing. If we go out and execute, I think we'll be fine."
If so, the Bucs could take the happy out of Spurrier's homecoming.
"It's always a fun atmosphere at Raymond James," Lynch said. "But you add this to it, it should be buzzing."