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Then Gibbs Said to Riggins
By Jim Gehman
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2009 Jim Gehman
All rights reserved.
Joe Gibbs: Three Super Bowl Titles, One Hall of Fame Bust
They Hired Joe Who?
There is no question that Joe Gibbs paid his dues!
After beginning his career in 1964 as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, San Diego State, Gibbs would go on to coach the offensive line and running backs, and be an offensive coordinator at Florida State, USC, and Arkansas before joining Don Coryell's staff with the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals in 1973. After five seasons under the arch, it was on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then to the San Diego Chargers.
But when Jack Kent Cooke named him the head coach of the Redskins on January 13, 1981, Washington's fans and even some of its players asked, "Who is he?"
Gibbs tried to answer that question a few weeks after replacing Jack Pardee during an interview with the Washington Post. "Everyone is trying to put together what I'm like. They want to get a feel for the type of person I am," said Gibbs. "But I'm just trying to be myself. I think that comes over pretty quickly. Ultimately, the most important effect I'll have on this world is not how many games I win, but the kind of relationships I have with people. People interest me. I would have to be in some kind of people business if I wasn't coaching. But I'm convinced I am here in this world to do the job I'm doing."
Some of the Redskins players, a veteran-laden team since George Allen began patrolling Washington's sideline in 1971, wondered if they would have a job. Or would the new coach clean house after the team had gone 6–10 the previous season and missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year?
"I know people are waiting to see what I do and how I conduct myself. Anyone who forms an opinion about me before I can start doing my job is doing everyone a disservice," Gibbs said. "People have a misconception about this whole situation. I'm not going into this feeling I have to cut older players. That's not how it's going to work. I've been warned that the heart of this team, the veterans, were worried that I was coming in here to get rid of them. But I'm selfish. I don't care if a guy is 20 or 50, if he can play, I'm keeping him. I just want players who want the team to win as badly as I do.
"Age will never be the single determining factor in cutting a player. It will be weighed, of course, along with a lot of other things. I want what is best for the team now and in the future."
Gibbs was confident about the team's future and shelved any speculation that there would be problems between him and general manager Bobby Beathard, who had reportedly clashed with Pardee.
"I am in charge of two things a coach has to be in charge of," said Gibbs. "I hire the staff and I determine the roster. If you don't have those powers, it won't work, and I have them here. The draft is another sticky situation at a lot of places because the coach says he has to have say over the players who could get him fired. Here, Bobby heads the draft, but we are going to have input. The assistant coaches are going to work out the possible prospects, and it will be talked over by everyone, so when we take a guy, we can all live with it.
"I've been involved in three different pro situations. At Tampa Bay, John McKay determined everything. At St. Louis, management had the power. At San Diego, it was shared between the coach and the general manager. Here, it's slightly different because of Bobby's input into the draft. But it's enough like the Chargers to convince me it will be a success. The Chargers are winners, and we will be, too."
"I'm a Washington Redskin"
Given his reputation for having a steadfast work ethic, Joe Gibbs could have worked laying tracks for the first transcontinental railroad in an earlier life.
That, along with the unquestioned leadership he displayed as the head coach of the Redskins for 12 seasons, from 1981 to 1992, and the success that the team earned and enjoyed during that period — eight playoff appearances and three Super Bowl championships — who else would team owner Daniel Snyder have asked to perform the Heimlich on his suffocating franchise in 2004?
But why would Gibbs want to return to Washington? Why even remotely risk tarnishing his Hall of Fame career?
"My decision to return to coaching after 12 years away was the result of a long process of reflection, prayer, and discussion with my family. This was a huge step, and I was well aware of the challenge. It was daunting, to say the least," Gibbs wrote in Hail Redskins. "But when I returned to Redskin Park on January 8, 2004, any doubts I might have had about the wisdom of my decision were put to rest. That was the day I was introduced — for the second time — as head coach of the Washington Redskins."
During the 11 seasons that followed Gibbs' retirement, five men patrolled the sideline for the Redskins: Richie Petitbon, Norv Turner, Terry Robiske [three games in 2000], Marty Schottenheimer, and Steve Spurrier. Collectively, they had three winning campaigns and appeared in the postseason only once.
"While I fully understood the magnitude of the task at hand and the fact that there was no guarantee of success, I knew I had done the right thing [by returning to Washington]," Gibbs wrote. "There are a lot of football teams and coaching jobs, but there is no team and no job quite like this one. The Washington Redskins are one of the greatest franchises in all of professional sports. The team has a rich tradition that I came to appreciate and embrace. I felt fortunate to coach the Redskins from 1981 through 1992. Given the opportunity to return by owner Daniel Snyder, I feel fortunate again. I just hope we can achieve the same level of success.
"Even in my years away from football, when I was operating my racing team in Charlotte, North Carolina, and winning NASCAR championships, I still had an emotional bond with the Redskins and the Washington fans. When you share the experience of winning three Super Bowls and you see that pride reflected in the community, that feeling never leaves you. Over the past decade, I was approached by a number of NFL teams, asking if I would consider a return to coaching. Each time I said no. In my heart, I think the only job I could have taken is this one. I'm a Washington Redskin."
The Coach Says His Good-Byes
The first time that Joe Gibbs retired as Washington's head coach occurred on March 5, 1993. He had led the Redskins for 12 seasons, compiling a 124–60 regular-season record, a 16–5 mark in the playoffs, and captured three Super Bowl titles.
However, that success came at a cost.
"I left the Redskins after the 1992 season because I was whipped, physically and emotionally. The stories about our coaching staff working until 4:00 in the morning, living on candy bars and pizza, were no exaggeration," Gibbs explained in Hail Redskins. "It drained me to the point where, finally, it was necessary for me to walk away."
Gibbs walked away with enough memories to fill the Smithsonian Institution.
"There are moments you experience as a coach," Gibbs said, "that you cannot experience anywhere else. By 'moments,' most people would assume I'm referring to our three Super Bowl wins — the moment when the game ended and the celebration began. I remember those moments, but it is the relationships I cherish most of all.
"I remember going back on the field after one of our Super Bowls. The stadium was empty, the field was deserted, and Charles Mann, our great defensive end, was there looking around. He said, 'You know, Coach, getting here was the fun.' It was so true. Getting there, building the team, climbing that mountain, was something we all shared. That was the fun, meeting that challenge."
Gibbs' second tenure as Washington's head coach could have been considered challenging and, to a degree, successful. After four seasons, 2004 to 2007, he announced his second retirement on January 8, 2008, just three days after being beaten by Seattle in the NFC wild-card playoff game, 35–14. And even though he led the Redskins to the playoffs twice during those four years, righting the Burgundy and Gold's off-kilter ship, Gibbs knew in his heart that it was time for him to sail back to North Carolina, where his family had remained after he returned to coaching.
"The way we played in those last four games of the season [all victories]; I thought we had a great chance," Gibbs said during a press conference. "All of us were totally devoted to giving ourselves the best chance to go all the way. I felt like that was a real possibility. The Seahawk game obviously was a shock for all of us. None of us liked the way that happened."
Following a team meeting the next day, Gibbs went to his home in North Carolina and had another meeting. This one was with his wife, Pat, his sons, J.D. and Coy, and the rest of his family.
"When I started back to D.C., I kind of had a real strong feeling in my heart of what I felt like I should do," said Gibbs. "So much of our life, Pat and the kids, as we grew up here and they grew up here; this is where we wanted to be. I felt like also another part of me [should be] with the family and everything there in Charlotte. I think everybody here is aware of the fact that [since] I came here four years ago, my family situation has dramatically changed [because of a grandson being diagnosed with leukemia]. Having gone through that change [and knowing the only way I can do] this job is going after it night and day. [Family] is something you think about all the time.
"I have always said that the most important thing I am going to leave on this earth, Pat and I, are going to be our kids, our grandkids, and the influence you have on others. My family situation being what it is right now, I told [Redskins owner Daniel Snyder] that I just did not feel like I could make the kind of commitment that I needed to make going forward this year knowing what my family situation was. I felt like they needed me."
The Redskins were 30–34 during Gibbs' second tour, and 1–2 in the postseason.CHAPTER 2
George Allen, 1971–1977
"We knew that he was a player's coach and he was extremely respectful, particularly of the older players. He valued our opinions. George Allen brought an atmosphere of confidence [with him from coaching the Los Angeles Rams]. He brought with him, 'The defense is the side of the ball that wins games.' Many of the players that came with him — Jack Pardee, Myron Pottios — these guys were defensive players who believed that the defense was just as important as or more important than the offense. And that we could make the difference in a game.
"We all knew that we probably couldn't break 15-flat in the 100, but as a team working together, we made few, if any, mistakes. We could overcome virtually any other team and even dominate a lot of teams. And then of course, we knew, too, that scoring on defense is demoralizing to the other team. That was our goal in every game, to get one or two scores. These things led to a pride in ourselves with a dependency on our teammates."
— Mike Bass, cornerback
* * *
"[Having a third head coach in three years] didn't bother me. The big adjustment one has to make, especially if you're on offense and you've been coached by head coaches who have been basically offensive coaches, then there's where the adjustment has to be made. You've got a defensive-minded coach now who thinks the defense can score more points than the offense can.
"We took advantage of the talent we had and put points on the board. So it didn't change our focus or thought process in terms of how we performed. It did create a situation which probably the way some defensive players may have felt when you're coached by a head coach who has a basically offensive coaching background. You've got a situation where you've got two kids and the defensive team will be the favorite child rather than the offense for the first time in your life."
— Larry Brown, running back
* * *
"[After starting every game at defensive tackle as a rookie in 1970] they named Allen coach, and I knew of his reputation for [preferring to play seasoned veterans]. I'd just bought a house, the first house I ever bought in my life, and I don't know if I'm going to be on the team. So Allen called me up and said, 'I need to see you.' He said, 'You know, Bill, I was watching film of you and I'm going to move you to defensive end. It's your position to lose. We can build this defense around you.'
"About a month later, he has a press conference and says, 'I've never played rookies. That's not my style. I like veterans, and no rookie is ever going to play for me.' And so just before training camp, he pulls me in again. He says, 'Bill, I've been thinking about you. Even though you started all last year, I think the best thing for me to do is treat you just like a rookie.' Of course, they had traded for Verlon Biggs and Ron McDole. So that was the end of my having a locked-up defensive end job. That's the way George was. George would say things that he really believed at the time, but the statement quickly became inoperative."
— Bill Brundige, defensive lineman
* * *
"George was a very truthful, straightforward guy. He would tell you something and then turn around and tell someone else the exact same thing. He didn't pull any punches. What he would say to you, he'd say to the press or anybody else. Whereas some of the other coaches I played for didn't do that."
— Dave Butz, defensive tackle
* * *
"[When George Allen became my fourth head coach in four seasons, I sensed some stability] only because he surrounded me with old guys. You had to be suspicious, too. You look around, and the general feeling was you needed younger players. And he did keep some around, but he did create a different attitude, and he reached down to really deal with your desire to win. And he reminded us at the same time that our careers were at the threshold where it should be ending. He was a master of motivating people and reminding people of the value of playing together as a team. And he sold that idea!"
— Pat Fischer, cornerback
* * *
"We knew that he was defensive-oriented and he wanted a very conservative approach to offense [when he came to Washington in 1971]. But it really wasn't that conservative. He was going to take advantage of whatever a defense would allow him to do offensively. He just wanted mistake-free football on offense, defense, and special teams.
"He was the first coach that I'd had that really had a very comprehensive defensive system. Everybody else that I had played for up to that point, we really didn't have an arsenal to work out of like Coach Allen brought here."
— Chris Hanburger, linebacker
* * *
"He followed after Bill Austin had it in '70, after Lombardi died. Allen comes in and Allen was strictly a defensive coach. He wanted to win 7–3. Just don't make mistakes offensively, and we'll win defensively. That was his philosophy. And that was completely different from the way I had played.
"And Lombardi, being an offensive-minded coach, we had a lot of weapons and we just didn't use them. [Allen] changed all the keys in the passing game. The things that we did were just backwards for me and it just didn't work."
— Sonny Jurgensen, quarterback
* * *
"In those days, I think the draft was either late January or early February, and we rushed in [to Washington] in early January  ourselves and we were staying at a downtown hotel and getting ready for the draft.
"I remember the morning of the draft, George Allen asked me to meet him down in the lobby of the hotel and we'd walk over together. As we left, the doorman said to George, 'I hope you have a good draft.' He said, 'We're going to have the best draft we ever had.' He didn't say anything more to me.
"When we got to the Redskins facility, he called a meeting [with the assistant coaches] and said, 'Fellas, about 4:00 this morning, I concluded a trade. I traded with the L.A. Rams.' And then he gave a litany of names: John Wilbur, Jeff Jordan, Diron Talbert, Myron Pottios, Maxie Baughan, Jack Pardee, and Richie Petitbon. We sat there stunned. And then finally one of our coaches said, 'What did we give?' He said, 'Our first, second, third, fourth, and fifth draft choices this year and next.' [Actually, they gave up Marlin McKeever, the first and third picks in 1971, and the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh picks in 1972.]
"George, I think, traded away 20-some draft choices before the beginning of that year and brought in a lot of fine players. Ron McDole from Buffalo, Verlon Biggs from the Jets, Billy Kilmer. We came in with a great deal of optimism. I had great faith in George. I thought he brought in an outstanding staff. Guys like Ted Marchibroda, Mike McCormack. So we were encouraged. We came in with very positive feelings."
— Marv Levy, assistant coach
* * *
"I loved him. Even though it was just for one year, to play for a coach like that, especially as a defensive player, was really, really a great opportunity. He was definitely a player's coach. He'd do whatever the players wanted. He'd work you hard and was a real stickler to make sure that mentally, everybody knew exactly what was going to take place. Not only playing for a coach like that, but with so many veterans, was really great for my career."
— Mark Murphy, safety
Excerpted from Then Gibbs Said to Riggins by Jim Gehman. Copyright © 2009 Jim Gehman. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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