One day after the players packed their belongings, Washington Redskins defensive specialist Bill Arnsparger did the same yesterday, leaving the team's defense in better shape than when he arrived in mid-October.
Arnsparger, a 23-year NFL coaching veteran, was hired as a consultant after Week 4, in which the Redskins eked out a 38-36 victory over the Carolina Panthers after surrendering 21 consecutive first-quarter points.
He met briefly with Coach Norv Turner yesterday, but said the visit was primarily social. He said he was not asked for an evaluation of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. And he did not comment when asked if scenarios were discussed that would bring him back next season.
"I don't think it's the time now to talk about that or discuss that," Arnsparger said. "I need a rest. The players need a rest. The coaches need a rest."
Nolan's future with the team remains under review, and he met with Turner on the matter yesterday.
Arnsparger said he had enjoyed working with Nolan and that his regard for Nolan was among the reasons he accepted when Turner asked him to join the staff.
Reflecting on his three-month stint, Arnsparger said he felt the defense had accomplished much since the season's midpoint but fell short in its essential task--keeping the opposing offense from scoring--in a 14-13 NFC semifinal loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last weekend.
"I think we improved," said Arnsparger, 73. "We still didn't do things that you'd like to do. It would have been good if we could have stopped one of those [Tampa Bay] plays from being touchdowns and made them kick a field goal or made them come off the field. There was the fumble [by Tampa Bay quarterback Shaun King that was recovered by running back Warrick Dunn, who then advanced the ball 13 yards]. It would have been nice if we'd got it and they had come off the field, and it doesn't end up in a first down and they get to keep the ball."
The Redskins' defense finished the season ranked 30th overall in the NFL. But to Arnsparger, only one statistic matters: points allowed. By that measure, the defense's evolution was striking. The Redskins (11-7) yielded an average of 29.5 points in their first four games, but just 14.2 points in their last four games.
Arnsparger filled his role in a circumspect manner, keeping a low profile as he worked alongside Nolan, a friend and protege. He never pointed out deficiencies in the defense, nor did he highlight remedies. He preached fundamentals: lining up correctly, tackling and playing together. "There's nothing magic," he said. "There's no mystique."
Arnsparger described his role as simply serving as a second set of eyes. "If I made any contribution, it was just that," he said.
The defense played especially well in the playoffs, in which the Redskins won their first-round game against the Detroit Lions, 27-13. The defense ranked fourth among the 10 teams that made the postseason--second against the run (behind the Jacksonville Jaguars) and sixth against the pass.
"It doesn't surprise me because the players worked hard to do that," Arnsparger said. "Still, it has to be better. To me, the statistic is fine. But the ultimate is stopping the score. And we didn't do that as it needed to be done at that particular time."