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Sun Tzu Week 13: ‘Twas a Turkey

By Eric Johnson | November 30th, 2002

Ah, Shaolin Redskins fans, our little village lays smothered under the forlorn detritus of our day of thanksgiving. We were feasting on so many wonderful dishes–and then disaster struck. Our troops, after an early domination of our sworn enemies, collapsed and their defeat was secured. It is a dark time for all of our peoples.

The one sliver of silver lining in all this is that the Ol’ Ball Coach had the opportunity to draw some more lessons from Master Sun Tzu. Let us see what this week’s struggles taught him:


Sun Tzu said:

“Now an army may be robbed of its spirit and its commander
deprived of his courage.”

This is perhaps the simplest explanation of the Redskins’ inability to defeat Dallas. Though he said on his radio show that he feels like he’s been the coach at every one of the last ten defeats we have experienced against the Cowboys, Spurrier only coached the most recent one. The blame is not solely his: Norv Turner and Marty Schottenheimer also oversaw grievous losses to our eternal enemy during that span. Coaches may come and go, but the team–and the outcome–remains the same.

So to what can we attribute the Redskins’ inability to defeat the Cowboys? The Cowboys simply, somehow, rob us of our spirits. The first few defeats were probably just vagaries of the game–but now the team is so keyed up about the series and the losing streak, and Dallas is so confident of victory, that we end up defeating ourselves as we showed this week. The solution, then, isn’t external–it is internal. We allow them to rob us of our spirit–by robbing ourselves of our spirit. This must stop, and stop now.


Sun Tzu said:

“If troops are punished before their loyalty is secured they will
be disobedient. If not obedient, it is difficult to employ them.
If troops are loyal, but punishments are not enforced, you cannot
employ them.”

The Ol’ Ball Coach is walking a fine line with regards to his relationship with his players, and it is something to watch over the next few weeks. In general, his award/punishment system is very clear, as I have mentioned before: if you perform up to the coaching staff’s standards, you play; if you don’t, you don’t.

But this week in particular has shown what a keen edge that can sometimes be. The loss at Dallas had personnel repercussions, when PK James Tuthill and P Bryan Barker were replaced. Many read into his actions–particularly cutting Tuthill–as knocking the heads off of players with essentially minor roles in the loss. The kind of action often ascribed to Norv Turner–a rather ineffectual showing of pique. There were grumbles of surprise among his players. While the performance-based move was consistent, it struck them and some observers as perhaps heavy-handed.

Luckily, however, Spurrier also has an example of how that approach can benefit some players: Darnerian McCants rejoins the line-up after having been effectively benched for sloppy practices and blocking poorly in the Seattle game. But now he understands the lesson he was taught: “By midseason, I pretty much understood his style. They want you to know everything about everything. Before, I knew my position and what to run, but now you have to know all positions. It’s a lot more detail. He’s searching for perfection.”

The more players that understand that, the more success Spurrier will have. However, he has to be careful not to alienate his players in the process.


Sun Tzu said:

“On the day the policy to attack is put into effect, close the
passes, rescind the passports, have no further intercourse with
the enemy’s envoys and exhort the temple council to execute the

It appears Steve Spurrier’s internal struggle might be over. In the past weeks, he has been criticized for not running the ball enough; for poor play-calling; for relying on a deep game that isn’t (or can’t be) there; for a myriad of mistakes in his approach to the professional game.

But these concerns aren’t truly his–these aren’t the things that make him tick. He plays a different game, and has remembered that fact. “You need balance,” Spurrier said. “. . . But I was maybe wrong in worrying about it [the criticism of the number of passes the Redskins were throwing] too much. You have to coach your way. . . . Our fans, even the players on our team, they want to run more. I want to do what they want to do. But Mr. Snyder didn’t hire me to run the ball 45 times.”

This recommitment to “playing within himself” will provide dividends in the long run. I expect we’ll see a more wide-open game for the remainder of the season as he tests both his younger players and reminds himself of the style of play that got him here. It might fail, but it will very likely be an exciting month–and a precursor of Redskins football to come!

Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Eric Johnson

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