Two football coaches whose reputations could not have been better in this town have discovered the old coaching axiom "you're only as good as your last game" to be so true. Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, with a 12-year Redskins record of 124-60 prior to his return after 11 years, has a disappointing 3-6 mark going into today's game against heavily favored Philadelphia.
Meantime, Maryland savior Ralph Friedgen and many Terrapins fans were asking "what happened?" after Virginia Tech romped to a 55-6 victory Thursday night in Blacksburg, Va. "You won't see me around here for a whole long time if we do this. They won't have to fire me. I'll quit," said Friedgen, whose Terrapins are 4-6 after his first three teams made it to bowl games in compiling a 31-8 record. Maryland was 37-73 in the 10 years before Friedgen's arrival and a bump in the road shouldn't rattle anyone's coffee cup, including the coach's. The Fridge needs a quarterback.
Savaging the coach isn't new, but the surliness, angry boos and early-departing fans that have permeated the fourth quarter of the last two Redskins home games -- against Baltimore and Cincinnati -- seem unreasonable in light of how favorable Gibbs's return was viewed last January and the three Super Bowl trophies he won during his first tenure here.
This discord appears to be the result of Gibbs's offense, so far unimaginative, and bringing veteran quarterback Mark Brunell to town for a $8.6 million signing bonus. Brunell, the lowest-rated starting quarterback in the NFL, will be replaced today by third-year man Patrick Ramsey.
Gibbs's decision to recruit Brunell over other free agent quarterbacks such as Kurt Warner, Kerry Collins and Chris Chandler can be second-guessed, as can his decision to stick with Brunell through 81/2 games. But Brunell's receivers also dropped too many balls and didn't get open enough, the offensive line hasn't been great and to me, Clinton Portis doesn't fit into the offense as well as John Riggins or Stephen Davis.
While the NFC's top-rated defense has kept the Redskins in most games, Gibbs is still trying to deal with all the new blitzing schemes and defenses that weren't used during his first run here. Kansas City Coach Dick Vermeil's return to St. Louis in 1997 after 15 years away from coaching began slowly as well, with 5-11 and 4-12 records before going 13-3 in 1999 and winning the Super Bowl.
Informal and unscientific conversations with some fans over the past several weeks indicate a steady decline in patience with the team and coach after all the hype that accompanied Gibbs's arrival. Add a change in the sporting character of many fans involved in the 1997 move to FedEx Field in Landover from RFK, plus an additional 40,000 ticket holders each week -- many of whom, because of traffic, have to arrive hours before the game and party themselves into unrealistic expectations. I believe the Redskins played better at RFK -- in front of generally more knowledgeable and reasonable fans.
The Baseball Gang, in a stupor for 33 years waiting for the return of major league baseball, is hyperventilating over the news this week that Washington's baseball team (likely to be called the Nationals) had signed third baseman Vinny Castilla, who led the NL in RBI in 2004, driving in 131 runs for Colorado, and shortstop Cristian Guzman, a .266 career hitter in Minnesota. On Friday, Washington GM Jim Bowden obtained outfielder Jose Guillen, 28, from Anaheim for shortstop Maicer Izturis and outfielder Juan Rivera. Guillen is a very good player, who had an anger management problem that caused the Angels to boot him for the last eight games of the regular season and the playoffs last season. A few sessions with My Man Dexter Manley, back in town running a counseling service, should get Jose on the right track.
No matter that MLB owners delayed a vote Thursday on approving the Expos' move until O's owner Peter Angelos has sufficient chips (tell me Bowden isn't cleaning the O's clocks so far?) to walk away flush while everyone keeps tabs on area baseball maven Linda W. Cropp, on the radar screen until the D.C. Council approves Mayor Anthony A. Williams's stadium plan.
Meantime, Washington baseball president Tony Tavares and his assistant, Kevin Uhlich, can't keep up with the demand for season tickets, accepting 11,463 deposits the first three days of sales. My fellow Baseball Gang members, in new Ted Baker open-necked silk Nats shirts, are avoiding the $90 Diamond Box seats, waiting for single-game tickets to go on sale, preferring those $7 and $8 beauties in the upper deck, in easy view of openings in the lower box seats sure to be left empty after Cropp and her fellow pols head to Zola after four innings.
High Schools' Big Games
Big stuff on the high school football front, with the Virginia and Maryland playoffs in full swing, Thursday's DCIAA Turkey Bowl (11 a.m.) between Dunbar and H.D. Woodson at Eastern and today's 5 p.m. WCAC championship game between No. 1 Good Counsel (11-0) against No. 3 DeMatha (9-1) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
"Getting a school to the finals for the first time is so much fun," said Good Counsel Coach Bob Milloy, who had taken teams to title games in previous tours at Springbrook and Sherwood. Asked Milloy, who plays five kids on offense and defense, what he'll do different in hopes of beating a bigger DeMatha team for the second time this season? "We'll do everything the same, including what we'll eat for pregame: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."
This will be Stags Coach Bill McGregor's 13th appearance in the WCAC title game in the past 14 years, of which he was won nine. The site of the game at the Naval Academy has him fired up. "What a place for a championship game," he said.
What will he say in the pregame talk? "You want your kids to play well, have fun, try to win . . . make it memorable. I'll remind them that they've been there before."
D.C. United and Coach Peter Nowak deserve raves for beating Kansas City, 3-2, last Sunday to win the MLS championship and qualify to have Feinstein write a book about them some day. . . . Hope Steve Spurrier does great as coach at South Carolina -- including whipping My Gators next year -- and as a measure of gratitude for such support, invites me for a round of golf at Augusta National. . . . Sean Taylor vs. Terrell Owens today. Vince Lombardi wouldn't like either guy. Neither do I.
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