Redskins coach more focused on finding way to beat the Bucs than firing them up with his words.
By HUBERT MIZELL
Published October 11, 2003
Steve Spurrier did not stay up and watch the Buccaneers play until 1 Tuesday morning, but within hours the most famous Florida Gators alumnus was reviewing every second of the video of Tampa Bay's 38-35 overtime collapse against Indianapolis in slow motion.
Up by 21 points with four minutes to go, the Bucs gave up three touchdowns, then allowed the Colts to drive 76 yards, setting up Mike Vanderjagt's winning field goal.
"They had a fourth-quarter breakdown that, considering how good the Bucs defense is, was hard to imagine," the Redskins coach said from his Ashburn, Va., office.
"Peyton (Manning) and Marvin (Harrison) were sensational for the Colts, doing stuff against the Bucs defense that no passing combination ever had."
The troubled, beat-up Super Bowl champions face Spurrier's team Sunday at FedEx Field.
So what did Spurrier learn from the video?
"We're working hard at it, but our guys can't throw it around anything like Peyton and Marvin," said Spurrier, whose Florida teams were 3-0 against Manning when he played at Tennessee. "First, we've got to learn to stay onside, avoiding penalties in our offensive line.
"We are unquestionably better than last season (when Washington went 7-9), with more talent and experience, but still a long way from being good as we need to be."
When he was coaching at the college level, Spurrier was despised for his cutting remarks about rivals. But he would not throw kerosene on the smoldering Bucs.
"This is still a very strong Tampa Bay team, not much different from the bunch that dominated Oakland a few months ago in the Super Bowl," Spurrier said. "They have some injuries, but the talent and pride are still there. It will be tough for us. Jon Gruden is an excellent coach with great creativity and passion for football. I like him."
Spurrier has a bittersweet history with the Bucs. In 1976, when Tampa Bay stumbled into the NFL with an 0-14 record, Spurrier took a beating at quarterback and did not get along with coach John McKay.
In the mid 1980s, Spurrier returned to Tampa and excelled as coach of the USFL Bandits, with a 35-19 record and two playoff appearances. But when the league disintegrated, Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse refused to interview Spurrier for a job as assistant coach, and Duke hired him.
In January 1996, after the Glazer family had bought the team, Tampa Bay offered the 1966 Heisman Trophy winner the head-coaching position. Spurrier declined. The Bucs hired Tony Dungy, and 12 months later, Spurrier's Gators won the national championship.
"There were some personal feelings in 2002 when we played the Bucs in a preseason game at Tampa," Spurrier said. "It was going home, playing a team that I'd been around. But all that is over now. My interest in the Bucs is trying to find ways to score a few points against them, giving us a chance to win."
Moving on, at age 58.
"No matter what happened to the Bucs against the Colts, my guys know Tampa Bay is still among the NFL's best," Spurrier said. "I'm sure the Bucs are really eager to prove the falldown against the Colts was a one-time thing."
Spurrier, the D.C. diplomat.
"I'm just thankful to have a good opportunity with the Redskins. We're progressing but with still so much to get accomplished. Right now, we are pretty healthy, a big factor in the really long NFL season. (Patrick) Ramsey is still learning, but I have plenty of confidence in our quarterback."
But Spurrier worries about his offensive line. It has been twitchy and erratic, with 19 false starts.
"It bit us again in a tight (27-25) loss in Philadelphia," he said. "Our two tackles (Chris Samuels and Jon Jensen) are fine players, but they have the most false starts. It's never two guys jumping, just one at a time, so it's hard to blame on what's being called, even an audible."
Fine-tuning at a different plateau.
"It's different in the NFL in many ways compared to college football. Defenses have no real weak links. They're much faster and skilled. Also it's a marathon. Back with the Gators, we coaches would feel in trouble when losing one game during the SEC season; two would all but eliminate you from the conference race. Here, five or six losses means a team is pretty good. But every week is a huge test. No weak opponents, really. You can't afford to get too high or too low."
Among the criticisms of Spurrier was allowing running back Stephen Davis to go to the Panthers.
"He's perfect for them," Spurrier said. "They want to run, run, run. Stephen needs 30-35 carries a game. We like to throw the football more.
"Another thing that's different in the NFL is the money considerations. Salary cap. Stephen would have made about $11-million if the Redskins kept him. He signed in Carolina for, I think, around a fourth as much. It's right for them, but I didn't think it was right for us."
Spurrier evades public conversations about the Gators, who are 3-3.
"Boy, the Gators are struggling," Spurrier said. "It figured that this season would be harder for the Gators, but it hurts me to see my school going through such tough times. I'm pulling hard for them."