The Washington Redskins made Steve Spurrier one of the highest-paid coaches in the National Football League by signing him to a five-year contract worth slightly less than $25 million. They also allowed him to recapture a part of his youth.
Spurrier, 56, said he grew up in Johnson City, Tenn., following the Redskins of the 1950s and early '60s, rooting for players such as Eddie LeBaron and John Olszewski because the team's games were broadcast to that part of the country. That, plus the lucrative opportunity to coach a team in the nation's capital at 86,000-plus-seat FedEx Field made the decision to take the Redskins' job easy.
"It was the opportunity to coach on the national scene for a team that plays in the largest stadium in the National Football League, that sells all those tickets and with all those fans," Spurrier said yesterday by telephone from his home in Gainesville, Fla. "They're the best fans in the NFL. It's so loud there."
Spurrier, whose hiring became official yesterday afternoon, said Redskins owner Daniel Snyder "sold me by his passion and love of the team. He wants to bring a championship back to D.C. And he wanted to hire me."
Marty Schottenheimer, who was fired on Sunday night by Snyder as the Redskins' head coach and director of football operations on the heels of the club's 8-8 season, spent his final day at Redskins Park conducting a farewell news conference and cleaning out his office before leaving at about 6:15 p.m. The Redskins dismissed Schottenheimer's younger brother, Kurt, the team's defensive coordinator, and his son, Brian, the quarterbacks coach, yesterday.
The Spurrier era gets under way today with an introductory news conference at Redskins Park at 6 p.m. It promises to draw national attention, with reporters from a number of Florida newspapers on hand, as well as network and cable television coverage. In his 12 seasons at the University of Florida, Spurrier amassed 122 victories and was known for his teams' high-scoring offensive exploits and his controversial manner on the sideline and behind a microphone.
His critics accused him of running up the score and being too demonstrative on the sideline, where he often angrily pulled his visor off his head and slammed it to the ground. He did not shy from criticizing opponents, and this past season created a tempest by accusing Florida State of deliberately injuring one of his players.
Despite never having coached an NFL game, Spurrier immediately became one of the league's five best-paid coaches. According to an NFL source, the Seattle Seahawks' Mike Holmgren and the Denver Broncos' Mike Shanahan have contracts worth more than $5 million per season, although their deals often are portrayed as being worth less. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who fired Tony Dungy as their coach, are preparing to hire Bill Parcells as their coach and plan to pay Parcells more than Spurrier, the source said.
Snyder and the Redskins are hoping that Spurrier's offensive wizardry works in the NFL. But many top college coaches have failed to make that transition, most notably Lou Holtz, who has succeeded at Notre Dame and South Carolina but was fired after 13 games in 1976 by the New York Jets. Dennis Erickson left the University of Miami for the NFL after compiling a 63-9-0 record and winning national championships in 1989 and 1991. He lasted four seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and was fired after going 31-33. He returned to college coaching at Oregon State and led the Beavers to their first winning season in 29 years.
"I think Steve is an excellent football coach at any level," said Pepper Rodgers, the Redskins' vice president of football operations who is close to Spurrier. "As Steve likes to say, 'If you're playing sandlot ball and you run down and the guy backs off you, you stop and catch the ball. And if the guys comes up on you, you run by him.' He takes it as a compliment when people say he plays sandlot ball. . . . Football is football. It's played with 11 guys. Guys in the NFL are better on defense. But they're better on offense, too."
Said Redskins linebacker Shawn Barber: "I don't think it's that big of a difference from college to pro. If you know how to set up things that work, I think you can do it at whatever level it is."
Spurrier, who had his son-in-law, attorney Emerson King, help him negotiate his contract with Snyder, becomes the Redskins' fourth head coach in slightly more than 13 months, since Snyder fired Norv Turner with three games remaining in the 2000 season, did not retain interim replacement Terry Robiskie and ousted Schottenheimer. Spurrier is the coach Snyder wanted last offseason, when Spurrier rejected the job, and it was clear when Spurrier resigned abruptly at Florida 11 days ago to pursue an NFL coaching job that the Redskins would fire Schottenheimer if they could hire Spurrier.
"This is somebody that the owner has wanted for a long time here," Barber said. "He'll have the opportunity to coach five years, and probably get an extension. He'll probably be here 15 years. [Snyder] will float or sink with this guy."
Snyder said yesterday he tried to find a way for Schottenheimer to stay but could not get past the coach's insistence on keeping his contractual right to overrule an incoming general manager on any disagreements about player moves. Schottenheimer's four-year, $10 million contract gave Snyder the right to hire a general manager but would have given Schottenheimer the final say on player-related decisions.
"I tried to make this work," Snyder said from his home in Bethesda, where his series of meetings with Schottenheimer were conducted. "It became clear I could not bring in a quality general manager without giving that individual the right to make personnel decisions. Marty would have had full participation in all the player decisions. If there were any disagreements, I would have served as the tiebreaker."
Schottenheimer said he was not willing to give up the veto power he had negotiated into his contract a year ago.
"Dan Snyder and I have agreed on many things," Schottenheimer said. "The issue we could not resolve, however, involved the process of selecting the players that would make up the Washington Redskins' roster. I have great respect for the privilege of ownership. However, the opportunity to determine the composition of the Washington Redskins' roster was the single most important element in my decision to accept this position as head coach."
Rodgers, who coached Spurrier as a college player at Florida and once had him on his coaching staff at Georgia Tech as a $30,000-a-year assistant, said Snyder and Spurrier needed only one face-to-face meeting after building a rapport during last year's courtship. Rodgers declined to say when the meeting took place, and indicated that most of the deliberations were done by phone.
"We had talked to Steve before," Rodgers said. "I actually thought he would be our coach before. He did like the Redskins at that time. He did like Dan. . . . My job was to sell Dan Snyder, and Dan Snyder is an easy person to sell to Steve Spurrier. Dan was the reason that Steve came here."
Snyder said in a written statement released by the team: "Steve Spurrier will bring a supercharged, exciting and dynamic brand of football to our great fans. His ability to energize players and teams is unprecedented. The Redskins deserve to be back at the Super Bowl and I am immensely confident that Steve is the coach to get us there."
Word of Spurrier's hiring led to an immediate reaction at the team's ticket office: Several hundred of the approximately 1,000 available club-level seats were sold and a team official said the rest are expected to sell soon.
Staff writer Liz Clarke contributed to this report.