In choosing Frerotte, Redskins coach admits mistake

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When Norv Turner was named Washington Redskins coach in 1994, one of the attractions of the job was that the team had the third pick in the NFL draft.

Turner, who as an assistant coach in Dallas had groomed Troy Aikman, wanted to select a quarterback who would lead the team for the next decade.

After surveying the field, Turner picked Heath Shuler over Trent Dilfer.

The jury still is out on Dilfer in Tampa Bay, but Turner, in effect, acknowledged last week that he erred when he took Shuler.

Turner ended the Washington quarterback derby last Monday by selecting seventh-round pick Gus Frerotte over Shuler

What did Frerotte do to win the job? He completed four of 16 passes for 48 yards on Aug. 16 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

What he didn't do got him the job. Shuler, who was 7-for-13 for 65 yards, fumbled and threw an interception.

Frerotte did neither. He won the job by making fewer mistakes. Shuler's a better athlete, but Frerotte's a better quarterback.

When Turner arrived in Washington, he had a quarterback on the team similar to Frerotte -- a middle-round draft pick with a big arm who wasn't very mobile, but didn't make mistakes.

His name was Mark Rypien, who got swept out in Turner's rebuilding program.

Turner is back to square one. He hopes Frerotte can win by not making mistakes, but Frerotte is not likely to become a franchise quarterback.

For two years, Frerotte has been a popular underdog in #i Washington, the player with the minimum salary outshining Shuler, who got the megabuck contract. Now the pressure is on Frerotte to show he can take the team to the playoffs.

"At this point, we felt we would have fewer negative plays [with Frerotte]," Turner said.

The unanswered question is whether Frerotte can make enough positive plays.

After going 9-23 in his first two years, Turner is expected to win this year. A third straight losing season could stretch the patience of owner Jack Kent Cooke.

Goodbye, Dan

The best bet of the year is that Dan Reeves won't be back as New York Giants coach next year.

The question is whether he'll survive this season.

Reeves committed an unpardonable sin last week when he criticized New York fans who had been booing quarterback Tommy Maddox before the coach cut him.

"Players, like anybody, get excited when the people around you are excited," he said. "You can feel the electricity going in the stadium. I've been in stadiums for 28 years before I came here. And I guarantee you, it can help. You go to Kansas City and think that doesn't help their team play? You go to Denver and think that doesn't help them play? I haven't gotten that feeling here.

He added, "It's unfortunate that in New York, fans are definitely swayed more than any place I've ever been by what they read and what they hear."

The next day, Reeves tried to backtrack and say he was just asking for support.

"The fans have been great in New York," he said. "We just need all the help we can get. It's nice to go into your own stadium and see them excited. . . . Teams feed off that."

But the damage had been done. Giants co-owner Wellington Mara even issued a statement defending the fans.

"Dan is entitled to his opinion and I fully appreciate his point of view because he is out there on the front line," Mara said. $H "However, our experience over 72 years of being in business is that our fans have always stuck by us. Even through the lean years of the '60s and '70s, they were with us, and our experience has been when our fans boo, it's not because they are against us, it's because we are not fulfilling their expectations."

Mara knows the New York fans don't need to be swayed by what they read and hear. Many of them have been season-ticket holders long before talk radio existed and they can make up their own minds about a coach. Just ask Allie Sherman and Ray Handley.

If the Giants don't win at the start of the year -- and they open against the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys -- Reeves is likely to be hearing boos.

General manager George Young says the players play hard for Reeves, but it's probably too late to rehabilitate the coach in the fans' eyes.

New Yorkers don't like to be told they're not as good as the fans in Kansas City and Denver. After all, those cities didn't even have teams when they were cheering Tuffy Leemans and Mel Hein.

Soap opera in Dallas

Emmitt Smith's knee injury is just the latest problem for the star-crossed defending champion Cowboys.

In addition to the Michael Irvin suspension, they have to cope with the loss of much of their depth to free agency and injury, and then there's the continuing Barry Switzer problem.

Switzer proved last year that he could win with his easygoing style. But easygoing coaches sometimes lose control of their teams after they win one time.

Then there's the continuing Switzer-Troy Aikman controversy. It's no secret that the intense Aikman doesn't like Switzer's laid-back style. When Aikman tried to take charge and screamed at players last year, then-defensive line coach John Blake accused Aikman of racism. Since the majority of the Cowboys are black, it's logical that some of the players he yelled at would be black. When this story broke during the Super Bowl last year, all the black veterans defended Aikman.

During the off-season, Aikman and Switzer had a meeting that was supposed to produce something of a truce.

Now there's new fuel for the fire, "Hell-Bent," by Skip Bayless, a sometimes ESPN commentator. The book recounts the Aikman-Switzer problems and adds new charges. It says the Switzer camp accused Aikman of tanking the two Redskins games to make old buddy Norv Turner look good. And it has the Switzer camp spreading gossip and innuendo about Aikman's personal life.

The book doesn't document that the Switzer camp actually made these charges. There are no direct quotes to support them.

But the idea of Aikman's throwing games is too ludicrous to take seriously. In their two victories over the Cowboys, the Redskins ran the ball better than normal, gaining 136 and 140 yards.

The defensive line they shredded was coached by Blake, a leading member of the Switzer camp who since has taken Switzer's old job at Oklahoma. It's curious that Blake was blaming Aikman when his line was getting ripped.

As expected, Aikman is not happy with the book. He has used the word "criminal" to describe it.

It just adds, though, to the circus atmosphere surrounding the Cowboys. If they can win again with all this turmoil, it will be another sign of how watered down the league has become.

Timing is right

As long as the Ravens have to play the Oakland Raiders this year, they couldn't have picked a better time than Week 1. The Raiders could in turmoil when they arrive Sunday.

Defensive coordinator John Fox quit last week, which is virtually unheard of during training camp. He said it was for personal reasons, but the scuttlebutt is that he got fed up when owner Al Davis was criticizing Fox for the team's poor play on defense.

Fox apparently said that if Davis wanted to coach the team himself, he should go ahead and do it.

Now there are rumors that Davis could replace coach Mike White with assistant head coach for offense Joe Bugel.

Selling PSLs

A few weeks ago, Ravens owner Art Modell noted that the Redskins like to point out that they're not selling permanent seat licenses in their new stadium.

"Jack Kent Cooke has been needling me about our PSLs," Modell said.

Cooke's not about to stop. He recently told USA Today, "I'm absolutely opposed to them [PSLs]. This, in my opinion, is a form of gouging and I don't think it's fair to the fan that he should have to pay twice, as it were, for a seat."

Modell notes that if he were charging the prices Cooke is charging for regular seats -- $40 to $60 -- he wouldn't need PSLs.

"He's charging an arm and a leg," Modell said.

It's also unlikely the Redskins are going to play the Ravens in a preseason game any time soon, though Modell has endorsed the idea.

Cooke hasn't responded publicly, but Redskins insiders say he has no plans to schedule the Ravens in the preseason. He would prefer to act as if they don't exist.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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