Steve Spurrier, Meet Sun Tzu
By: Eric Johnson 
Posted: 2002-09-05
Category: Washington Redskins News
Welcome to Sun Tzu and the Art of Coaching! It's a weekly column comparing Steve Spurrier's approach to coaching with Sun Tzu's approach to warfare. Spurrier is an avowed fan of the military philosopher of ancient China, and it is clear that the ol' Ball Coach gathers inspiration from his writings.

The day after each game, I'll analyze the previous day's contest, pulling out particular plays run by Spurrier's squad that illustrate specific principles laid out by Sun Tzu. I'll place them in a wider context as well, showing how Spurrier and Sun Tzu share a certain philosophical perspective.


Sun Tzu and the Art of War

The Art of War is a collection of writings on the planning, tactics, and strategy of military action. Traditionally, the book is attributed to Sun Tzu, a military general of the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history (770 - 476 BC). Historians have set the time of authorship as being more likely in the Warring States Period (475 - 221 BC).

The text touches on many elements that lead to the successful outcome of military campaigns: planning, knowing your enemy, knowing yourself, flexibility, surprise, the use of spies, and much more. The Art of War is traditionally represented as having thirteen chapters, on important elements of conducting military operations such as Offensive Strategy, Weaknesses and Strengths, and Maneuver. Sun Tzu's points are delivered in pithy paragraphs that capture completely the essence of his points. For instance: "Invincibility depends on one's self; the enemy's vulnerability on him."


Steve Spurrier and Sun Tzu

In 1997, Steve Spurrier received a copy of The Art of War. Now it has a permanent place on his desk. He quotes from it freely, and is certainly inspired by its precepts. "I read the book The Art of War by Sun Tzu," said Spurrier. "I learned a lot. One of Tzu's comments was that if the enemy is comfortable and at ease, do something to irritate him. It's not always something I do on purpose, but our enemies always seem to be looking for something to be mad about." Just ask Steve Mariucci.

Sun Tzu: "The general leads the army deep into hostile territory and there releases the trigger."
Spurrier: Converted 4th-and-1 for a touchdown.

Sun Tzu: "One able to gain the victory by modifying his tactics in accordance with the enemy situation may be said to be divine."
Spurrier: He famously doesn't plan out his games, so that he can remain flexible; for the same reason, he allows his QB to audible at the line.

Sun Tzu: "If the enemy prepares for the front his rear will be weak, and if to the rear, his front will be fragile. If he prepares to the left, his right will be vulnerable and if to the right, there will be few on his left. And when he prepares everywhere he will be weak everywhere."
Spurrier: "If they play real tight, throw it over their head. If they play way back, throw it short."

Steve Spurrier isn't the reincarnation of the 2,500-year-old Chinese military philosopher (Sun Tzu came in third in Heisman voting), but there are some fascinating parallels in their approaches to competition. We'll explore them through the season!
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