From the beginning of the season there has been a steady anti-Spurrier chorus chanting the proposition that Steve Spurrier isn't ready for the NFL. The NFL is too difficult, they say; "he can't schedule Vanderbilt and Kentucky." The NFL needs to be learned, not conquered, they say; "he'll find out it's not simplistic like Florida, and it takes years to understand it."
The chorus comes from inside and outside the Beltway. On television it has been led by Fox analyst Bill Maas, who seems to have broadcast a disproportionate number of Redskins games so far, and who has seized every opportunity available to him to lecture Spurrier how this ain't no college game, pal. It seemed each time Spurrier did something Maas didn't approve of, Maas ripped Spurrier for "not understanding the NFL." On those occasions when the Redskins played well and impressed Maas, he would praise Spurrier for "adjusting" to the NFL.
I probably missed the meeting when Maas was declared the King of Football. But I'm curious about a few things:
1. Exactly how different is pro football from college football? How many new things does a coach have to know? Like, in the NFL are there 12 guys on a side? In the NFL is a field goal worth five points? Except for the one-foot-in rule, what's the big difference?
2. Steve Spurrier won a national championship at Florida; I'd assume that proves Spurrier knows something about coaching football. What did Bill Maas win? Two playoff games in 10 seasons in the NFL.
I don't want to only pick on Maas. There are plenty of people here in town who are gloating over the fact that Spurrier has begun to throw less and run more -- as if this is some sort of proof that Spurrier's "Fun 'n' Gun" offense won't work in the NFL.
"He's playing Marty Ball!" one friend told me with glee.
Again, as if this is some sort of proof that Spurrier is stymied by the NFL.
Are you people nuts?
If Spurrier running the ball proves anything, it proves he's a football coach!
Spurrier isn't adjusting to the NFL so much as he's adjusting to his players. There is a technical term for this. It's called: Coaching.
Spurrier is doing what he can to win.
Let me refer you to what Herman Edwards said last week: "We don't go out there to play the game. We go out there to win the game. Hello? We go out there to win."
I have no doubt that Spurrier would rather win by "pitching and catching." But this isn't art school. He's not trying to get the aesthetics right. He's trying to win games. If that's accomplished easiest by running, then you run. Let's not overcomplicate the issue.
And if indeed Spurrier is winning by playing "Marty Ball," it isn't hard to appreciate how that happened. He inherited Marty Schottenheimer's team. Schottenheimer never could develop a solid quarterback or a good offensive line. And Schottenheimer's best offensive player was Stephen Davis. Under the circumstances Schottenheimer did a fine job getting to 8-8.
Some of us mistakenly expected the Florida quarterbacks to prosper under Spurrier. (Wilbon tried to warn me. I didn't listen.) But Spurrier hasn't been able to throw magic dust on his Gators and turn them into Joe Montana. His offensive line hasn't been real good at pass protecting. And his best offensive player is still Stephen Davis. So he ran the ball. Now, with Davis hurt, he's running it with Kenny Watson. To my mind this is how a coach earns his $5 million a year. He does what he can to win. I don't understand the criticism of Spurrier for changing course. Did they want him to keep throwing the ball no matter what, like Tin Cup? Do they think he learned nothing at all after 20 years of coaching?
The Redskins are 4-4. The collective record of the teams they have lost to is 25-7. Green Bay, Philadelphia, New Orleans and San Francisco are like a Murderer's Row. The Redskins got them all in a space of five games. If you were looking for a way to welcome Steve Spurrier to the NFL, wouldn't a basket of fruit have been nicer?
I think now what I've thought all along, that if you separate Spurrier's time in the NFL into 10-game blocks, his first block will be his worst. And the ride will get easier from there. The critics who want to deflate Spurrier because he isn't lighting up the scoreboard so far might want to remember how Joe Gibbs came in here bombs away, started 0-5, and found salvation in the Riggo Drill.
I'm thinking some coaches have a way of minimizing the time it takes them to adjust to the NFL, and maximizing the time it takes the NFL to adjust to them.