By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 19, 2005
Just one day after being fired by the Jacksonville Jaguars in early January, Bill Musgrave took his two sons to the beach. Musgrave helped Carter, 5, and Eli, 4, build sand castles, using a miniature dump truck, bulldozer and shovels. They frolicked in the sand and eluded waves in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
"It was therapeutic for me to think of something else," Musgrave, who spent two years as the Jaguars' offensive coordinator, recalled recently.
Musgrave's plans changed while at the beach after he received a surprising call from Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, who asked Musgrave to visit Washington and consider becoming his new quarterbacks coach. "I'm glad I took my cell phone with me," Musgrave said dryly. "I was excited about it."
Musgrave, 37, was so flattered by Gibbs's inquiry that he flew to Washington the next day, and accepted Gibbs's offer -- just three days after being dismissed by Jacksonville -- without pursuing any prospective suitors.
Gibbs is looking to Musgrave, a former NFL quarterback who got his first NFL coaching job at 30, to infuse the Redskins' troubled offense -- which finished last season ranked 30th in the 32-team league -- with new ideas. With the Redskins in the midst of their three-day minicamp this weekend, Musgrave is already making his presence felt.
"He's made some great suggestions that we kind of added to the mix of what we already had," Gibbs said recently.
As quarterbacks coach, Musgrave is no higher than fourth in Washington's offensive coaching hierarchy, behind coordinator Don Breaux; Joe Bugel, the assistant head coach-offense; and Gibbs. His main duty is to improve the performance of Patrick Ramsey, who reclaimed the starting job from Mark Brunell midway through last season. But Musgrave's contrarian philosophies -- and Gibbs's openness to them -- appear to make him as important as any offensive assistant this season. His addition to the coaching staff is evidence that Gibbs will substantially alter his offense.
Musgrave has spent most of his 12 years in the NFL -- six as a player -- working in what is known as the West Coast offense. The system is considered antithetical to Gibbs's ball-control philosophy in which power running sets up downfield passes. In the West Coast system, multiple receivers -- three, four or even five -- are unleashed for short, high-percentage passes. Gibbs uses a one-back system that generally employs extra blockers while sending out only two receivers.
For the sake of pass protection, Gibbs intends to continue limiting the number of receivers. (When Gibbs interviewed Musgrave, he was pleased that the first topic Musgrave broached was pass protection.) Nonetheless, Gibbs is expected to markedly open up his offense, inserting some wrinkles from Musgrave. "Sometimes you need to go outside of your own box," Gibbs said. "If we think something is good, we don't care where it came from. With Bill here, I'm sure there are some things we'll do that are West Coast."
Ramsey added, "I think a good mixture could be very successful -- of the West Coast offense and what we do as far as running the football."
Musgrave, who in Jacksonville oversaw a pass-happy offense, particularly on first downs, said the offensive systems are not as disparate as they seem. For example, although West Coast offenses generally attack defenses with multiple-receiver formations, some plays call for maximum protection. Also, the St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs use a similarly unconventional offense as the Redskins, with two tight ends (an H-back and pure blocker). The main difference is that the Rams and Chiefs usually employ multiple receivers instead of keeping them in for pass blocking.
"Most offenses in the league have gravitated towards one another," Musgrave said. "And there're a number of teams running very similar plays, just with different languages. I think you've got to fit your plays to your players. If you have a good system, your system should be able to adapt to the strengths of your players."
Musgrave already has played a role in one significant change to Gibbs's offense: adding the shotgun. Last season, Gibbs ignored the pleas of his quarterbacks who wanted to install the formation, in which the quarterback receives the snap deeper in the backfield, a few yards from the center. When previously asked by reporters about the shotgun, Gibbs had responded that it wasn't part of his offensive system, and explained the drawbacks. The Redskins were one of three NFL teams that eschewed the shotgun last season. It was the first time in Brunell's 12-year career -- nine of them in Jacksonville -- that he was part of an offense that didn't use the formation.
"We've been asking for it forever," Brunell said grinning, "so we're real pleased."
Musgrave dismisses the notion that Gibbs switched to the shotgun largely because of him. But Gibbs said Musgrave's opinion was a factor.
The Jaguars never scored more than 28 points in a game with Musgrave as their offensive coordinator, and as last season drew to a close, speculation intensified that he would be dismissed. Nonetheless, Musgrave said he was surprised at the decision to fire him. The Jaguars, who finished 9-7, had markedly improved from a 5-11 record in 2003, and the club was coming off its best season since 1999.
Musgrave noted that after he was hired, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver instructed the offensive coaches to use an ostensibly fan-friendly, pass-heavy system.
"We got in line with that," Musgrave said matter-of-factly.
The nadir of Musgrave's coaching career occurred with the Carolina Panthers in 2000, when he quit as offensive coordinator after only four games because of differences with then-coach George Seifert. Musgrave resigned on Oct. 3, two days after a 16-13 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Because of his contract, Musgrave, who declined to detail the cause of the friction with Seifert, was prohibited from coaching in the NFL for two years.
"I'm upset at myself at overreacting and making a mistake at that stage of my life," said Musgrave, who became a highly touted offensive coordinator for the University of Virginia in 2001 and 2002 before being hired by Jacksonville. "Both George and I made mistakes in our business relationship that caused it to deteriorate. Things just snowballed into things I'm sure both of us regret. I really learned a lot on my part of the equation. I know I'm a better coach because of it."
Musgrave seemed so destined for the NFL's coaching profession that he was named an assistant before his playing career officially ended. After being released by the Denver Broncos in the 1997 preseason, Musgrave was hired by the Oakland Raiders as quarterbacks coach. That year, quarterback Jeff George amassed a league-best 3,919 passing yards for Oakland. The next season, Musgrave tried to revive his playing career with the Indianapolis Colts. But after being waived early in the 1998 season, he was hired as the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive coordinator for the final 10 games of the season.
The thirty-something, who is slightly balding, stands out among Gibbs's offensive assistants. Jack Burns, last year's quarterbacks coach who is now a Redskins offensive consultant, is 55; tight ends coach Rennie Simmons is 62; Breaux is 64; and Bugel is 65. But Gibbs, 64, dismissed any thought that Musgrave was hired merely to inject youth into the coaching staff. "You've got good 37-year-olds, you've got bad ones," Gibbs said. "You've got good 64-year-olds, you've got bad ones. It really depends on getting the good one or the bad one more than the ages."
Washington's quarterbacks say Musgrave has already made an impact with his teaching, particularly by his emphasis on fundamentals related to footwork, reading defenses and timing. "I've been enthusiastically pleased," said Ramsey, who added that Musgrave has a knack for making complicated subjects easy to comprehend. "I'm sure, it [Musgrave's coaching] will evolve as the season goes on. But I feel really good about it."
Musgrave is well-liked because of his friendly, quiet manner. To relax, Musgrave -- whose wife Neely isn't into movies -- has a habit of going alone to theaters after his family goes to sleep and watching consecutive movies. After meetings following Friday's minicamp, Musgrave went by himself to the 10:40 p.m. showing of the latest "Star Wars" film and got only three hours of sleep to get up in time for practice. But he said his reserved personality masks an extremely competitive side.
"I'm always going to err on the side of saying too little than too much," said Musgrave, who also has two daughters, Miranda, 3, and Delaney, 2. "I'm pretty even-keel. I don't know if that's good or bad. I never felt like I wanted to get too elated after a victory or get too down in the dumps after a loss. I wanted to be the same guy every day as a player, and I want to be the same guy every day as a coach."