The practice had ended and Ted Fritsch started toward the players' locker room at Redskin Park.
"Oops, I better remember what door I have to go through now," he said, laughing as he quickly turned and headed to the entrance the coaches use to get to their dressing area.
It won't be the first habit that Ted Fritsch will have to change in the next few days as he adapts to being an assistant coach with the Redskins after four years as a player.
That startling transformation in his life occurred Thursday night when Jack Pardee called Fritsch, who had been cut in preseason after inexplicably losing his snapping ability. Pardee asked him if he would like to become the Redskins' special team coach, a job that had opened with the resignation of John Hilton earlier that day.
Fritsch took "about one second" to say yes, although Pardee said the Redskins could no longer activate him as a player. He flew in to Washington yesterday morning from his Atlanta home and was in uniform -- coaches' version -- at the afternoon practice.
"Do you call him coach now?" someone asked center Bob Kuziel, a good friend of Fritsch.
"You say, coach sir," Kuziel replied, trying hard to surpress a grin.
"Yeah, they were razzing me pretty good," Fritsch said later. "They wanted to know if they should call me Teddy or coach or sir, or any of the above. There were a lot of hoots and hollers too. I expected it. But I'll tell you, it's great to be back."
Even though he had been gone for six weeks, Fritsch, 30, admitted his heart really never left the Redskins, where he was player representative, captain of the special teams -- he coined the nickname, Wild Bunch -- and the personification of hustle and leadership.
Never the most talented player, Fritsch got in eight pro years thanks to his snapping ability -- George Allen once said he was the best in the league at his specialty -- and to his seemingly unending supply of spirit. Fritsch never stopped running in practice, never stopped cheering, never stopped believing the team could win no matter what the circumstances.
When Rusty Tillman was cut and Pete Wysocki became a starter, Fritsch emerged as the No. 1 personality on the special teams. His Wild Bunch slogan caught on last season, and soon appeared on towels and various other souvenirs.
But during this pest training camp, Fritsch went through a personal nightmare. Once as dependable as any snapper in the NFL, he suddenly made every hike an experience. When, in the final preseason game, he sailed a fourth-quarter try high over the head of punter Mike Connell, he knew he had literally cut himself from the squad. Three days later, Pardee made it official.
"I really wasn't bitter, but more disappointed," Fritsch said. "I was disappointed the Redskins didn't stick with me longer and I was disappointed I hadn't done a better job."
He returned home, where his wife recently had given birth to a baby girl, and tried to reassemble his life. He interviewed with some blue chip companies, signed with Buffalo for two days before being cut again, attended some high school games because he thought about coaching and, more than anything, just waited.
"I was kind of laying low," he said. "That's why when Jack called I could make a decision real fast. I guess the Good Lord had this in mind all the time. I always thought that I might want to be a coach.And how many people get this kind of break? They work 15 years to get to this level and here I am after six weeks."
Pardee temporarily had handed the special teams over the Kirk Mee, the director of pro personnel. But Mee was swamped with work and Pardee wanted a full-time person to replace Hilton. He said he thought of Fritsch right away.
"Rather than go out and hire someone who don't know the system," Pardee said, "you would like to have someone who is familiar with what we do, especially because this has happened so late.Teddy certainly knows our system and he was really a coach on the field anyway when he was a player. He was very demanding. He forced the players to play well."
Fritsch, whose late father was a coach on the high school and college level, admitted it felt strange returning to Redskin Park and standing on the practice field without being in playing gear.
"The only time I ever stood around in practice before was when I was hurt," said Fritsch, who once snapped in a game despite broken ribs. "So when I was out there, I kept thinking I was injured but that I would be back. I had to keep looking at my coach's uniform to remind myself.
"I've got a lot of friends on this team and it's great to see them, but I guess the kidding will die down. It's a thin line between a player and a coach and we'll all have to adapt to it. But I know I have their respect and they have mine."
Although Fritsch inherits one of the best special team units in the league, he does face some problems, most notably Mark Moseley's field goal slump. "If he kids them all this week, I'll take credit," Fritsch said.
"I see they are calling it the Mild Bunch," he said. "That will change. I played hard and I expect my players to play hard. Then we'll get along real well."
Clarence Harmon worked out for the first time this week and should play Sunday against St. Louis . . . Defensive end Coy Bacon had his knee drained and missed practice but Pardee said he also should be ready for the Cardinals.