Coach walks with $15M left on deal

Originally Published: December 30, 2003
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Saddled by an accumulation of losses, and apparently convinced his Fun 'n' Gun offense would not succeed in the NFL no matter how long he stayed, Steve Spurrier resigned as head coach of the Redskins on Tuesday after only two seasons.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen first reported that Spurrier had opted to step down, with the coach saying his departure was "in the best interests" of the franchise.

Official statement from Steve Spurrier
"I am announcing my resignation as head coach of the Washington Redskins effective today, December 30, 2003.

I thank Dan Snyder for the opportunity to coach this team for the past two years and I apologize to Redskins fans that we did not achieve a level of success that we had all hoped.

This is a very demanding job. It's a long grind and I feel that after 20 years as a head coach, there are other things that I need to do. I appreciate all the support, especially from former Redskins players in the area and again, I wish we would have come closer to the success those players enjoyed under Coach Joe Gibbs.

There are many outstanding players on the Redskins team and I wish them all the best. I'll always be pulling for the Redskins. I simply believe that this is the right time for me to move on, because this team needs new leadership. Hiring a new head coach will allow him to hire a new coaching staff and hopefully point the Redskins in the right direction.

I've enjoyed my time in Washington. Obviously, all of the losing can wear you down, but I believe that the franchise is headed in the right direction. Again, I'll always be pulling for the Washington Redskins."

Earlier in the day, only a few hours before the resignation, ESPN.com reported that Spurrier had retained prominent agent Jimmy Sexton to help him evaluate his contract and bring his status to a speedy resolution.

The end of Spurrier's tenure in Washington, where he was 12-20 after a highly successful college career, was clearly expedited by Sexton, who represents four of the Redskins' most prominent players and has dealt extensively with owner Daniel Snyder in the past.

It was Sexton's entry into the mix to negotiate the exit that led to some midday confusion Tuesday about whether Spurrier had, in fact, resigned. When contacted via cellphone on a Florida golf course by The Washington Post, Spurrier denied that he had resigned. He later explained that he did not realize that Sexton had sealed the deal.

Reached at his Redskins Park office, Snyder told ESPN.com he didn't plan to comment Tuesday or elaborate on a press release issued by the team. But he did say he "regrets" the failed experiment and emphasized that he had wanted Spurrier to stay.

"You know I wanted him to be successful," Snyder said. "I liked the guy. I wanted to win with him."

The club announced the departure as a "resignation" but Spurrier first told The Washington Post early Tuesday afternoon that the term did not accurately characterize his exit. He was merely parsing words, however, since he will receive none of the $15 million due him in the remaining three years of his five-year contract. Later, Spurrier acknowledged his departure was a resignation.

"Basically, [Spurrier] decided he wanted out, that he didn't want to coach there anymore, and both sides made that happen," said one source with knowledge of the inner workings of the coach's exit. "Everyone is just trying to save face. Snyder doesn't want people to think he fired the guy. Spurrier doesn't want people thinking he just walked away. You have some egos involved here, you know? But the bottom line is that, after thinking about it, Steve decided his offense wouldn't work [in the NFL]. It was like he had some epiphany or something."

Team sources said the Redskins will reimburse Spurrier for moving expenses and will pay some ancillary fees as well. It is also likely, they said, that Spurrier will receive what one source termed "a consultant transitional" payment. All of that, though, is separate from the base salary Spurrier was to have earned through the 2006 season.

So, while the two sides debate the semantics of how Spurrier came to leave, it was Sexton and Redskins counsel Norm Chirite who hammered out the details Monday night and Tuesday morning of a settlement satisfactory to the coach and the franchise.

League officials said that the matter will basically be treated as a resignation. That means Spurrier will technically remain under contract to the Redskins for three more years. Any team seeking to hire him during that time would have to compensate the Redskins with draft choices, money, or both.

That point is probably moot, sources close to Spurrier told ESPN.com, since he really has no desire to coach again at the professional level. The best bet: Spurrier will sit out for a year and do plenty of golfing -- all those conspiracy theorists in Nebraska, who phoned ESPN.com trying to connect him to the Cornhuskers' vacancy, can forget it -- and then surface in the college game for the 2005 season.

Spurrier had been purposely cryptic in recent days about his plans for the future. He told Washington-area media on Sunday he "planned to" return to the team for next season, but alluded to issues that needed to be resolved with Snyder.

Some of those issues were believed to be control over staffing and input in personnel decisions.

Club officials bristled at the term "issues" and strongly suggested Spurrier was seeking a convenient excuse and, at the end of the day, a viable exit strategy. Said one official: "Those were 'phantom issues,' that's all. Frankly, we felt he'd fight harder than he did. We just wanted him to move forward with a [shared] philosophy. To get on board. For whatever reason, he kind of threw up his hands and decided, 'Well, my system isn't a good fit for the NFL.' It's disappointing but, well, you just move ahead."

ESPN.com has learned that Spurrier met with Snyder on Sunday and expressed concerns for the first time over the viability of his offense in the NFL. He also acknowledged that he had experienced some problems with discipline.

Snyder had suggested that Spurrier's staff, the most inexperienced in the NFL and top-heavy with former University of Florida assistants, needed an upgrade. But by contract, Spurrier had the right to hire and fire members of his staff. Spurrier also was said to be seeking added sway in roster and personnel matters, something he previously had not requested, but that would not have been forthcoming.

The final arbiter on all personnel matters is Snyder, with significant input from Vinny Cerrato, the vice president of football operations who could find himself elevated at some point to general manager.

There was no small degree of irony in Spurrier's retaining Sexton; the agent represents several prominent Redskins, among them quarterback Patrick Ramsey, offensive linemen Chris Samuels and Randy Thomas, and middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter.

Sexton has often reworked clients' contracts in the past to help provide salary cap relief for Snyder and the Redskins. On Tuesday, he served the best interests of his newest client, Spurrier, while also helping the team out of a sticky situation.

The Redskins will quickly initiate a search to identify who might become their fifth coach under the Snyder stewardship. One name likely to be under consideredation is former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel, suddenly a very hot commodity, and scheduled to interview Saturday for the Arizona Cardinals' vacancy.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.