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Pain once dispensed is now pain endured for Spurrier

By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2002

This season, nobody's accusing Steve Spurrier of running up scores. He wishes. Ball Coach is a quart or two low on piercing, controversial remarks.

So far, bossing the Redskins has been a bruising, agonizing, semi-befuddling -- and, dare I say, humbling -- experience for the cocksure old University of Florida football lord.

At 57, he's being NFL-schooled. A student with a $5-million-a-year allowance. Critics say Spurrier "doesn't get it." Maybe so. For now. But he will ... I think.

I believe that, even as Washington quivers with a 5-8 record. Norv Turner was fired as 'Skins coach after an 8-8 record in 2000. A year later, Marty Schottenheimer went 8-8 and got bounced. Odds are 20-1 against Spurrier rising to .500 before the turbulence of '02 is done.

Not even boyish and impulsive Redskins owner Dan Snyder will be so trigger-happy as to eradicate Spurrier after one season. He owes the Gainesville fellow another $20M on a five-year deal.

Surely the Gator guy has learned. I've been around most every coaching legend since Bear Bryant and Vince Lombardi and Spurrier ranks with the smartest, most competitive, most inventive football minds ever.

He'll figure it out. Into his fourth sobering month as an NFL operator, Spurrier knows Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews, his best UF quarterbacks, are sub-mediocre in the pros.

Spurrier hasn't said it, but he is excruciatingly aware the Redskins need a mercurial receiver or two to threaten highly skilled, quick defenders. At the heart of his offensive line, the center and guards, Washington is a porous mess.

Some of the Spurrier offensive artwork, so renowned with the Gators, works in the NFL, but a lot of his playbook pages should be ripped out and burned. Suckering the Eagles or Giants isn't as easy a making Mississippi State and Vandy look foolish.

When the miseries subside, Spurrier must selectively carve his roster, even if old Gators must be fired, then do some solid playbook rewriting, followed by a competent draft and sensible free-agent signings.

If he gets to September with pretty much the same act, in personnel and tactics, the Snyder ax that beheaded Turner and Schottenheimer might again be sharpened. Don't ever think Snyder can't afford to swallow a mega-million-dollar execution.

I'm still betting Spurrier succeeds. Maybe someday even running up a few scores. Getting into a position to say clever, cutting things about rivals. With, just maybe, an ounce of humility that never was evident as a college coach.

Frankly, some are enjoying his pain.

* * *

BLITZES: With a Mia Hamm marriage to Nomar Garciaparra pending, will the Boston shortstop who wastes so much time fumbling with wristbands ever get around to slipping a ring on the soccer phenom's finger? ... Tiger Woods doesn't just gamble with 1-irons across water; the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported golf's richest talent played multiple $10,000 hands of blackjack at the MGM Grand, lost $400,000 for a night, but returned before leaving town the next morning to win it all back plus an $80,000 profit.

READER'S WORD: E-mail from Horace Stoneman of Palo Alto, Calif., says he was "feeling low about America's youth, being appalled at an overload of suggestive language and low-class attitudes on TV. Almost every network needs a moral scrubbing, beginning with Fox.

"Then, on my wide screen, the Army-Navy football game appeared. Showing youngsters with brains, class, judgment, respect and desire. I felt a lot better about our future. Being a huge reader of newspapers, I found your St. Petersburg Times article on Army-Navy the next day. It was so to the point. So handsomely stated, with patriotic and behavior angles well documented.

"As I read, tears came to the eyes. Just like when I watched it live on TV. Those kids from our academies will indeed soon be on some far-off battlefield, fighting for our way of life. Doing it with class, brains and judgment. Why can't this be more of a model for our young than the Osbournes and other televised garbage?"

DUNKS: Dartmouth's endowment is $2.3-billion, but the Ivy League school just dropped swimming and diving from its sports agenda, to save $212,000 a year. ... Fred Gehrke, a 1945-50 pro football player, became a graphics designer and drew the NFL's first helmet logo, Rams horns, for which team owner Dan Reeves paid a dollar per hard hat. Gehrke eventually became Denver general manager and got the 1977 Broncos to the Super Bowl. ... Speaking of running up scores, in California high school basketball, Stonebridge Prep gave South Bay a recent 151-5 battering and Hollister put a 110-6 licking on Downtown College Prep.

Whatever happened to Christian Okoye?

-- To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.

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