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San Jose Mercury News: Gibbs Bringing Buzz Back to Redskins


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http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/sports/13153239.htm

Gibbs bringing big buzz back to Redskins

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BY CHRIS HARRY

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The Orlando Sentinel

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TAMPA, Fla. - What Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs saw last weekend from his buddy/contemporary was enough to make him reach for the Metamucil.

As a member of Dick Vermeil's peer group, Gibbs, 64, was stunned to see Vermeil, 69, send his Kansas City offense out with five seconds remaining to go for the winning touchdown from Oakland's 1 rather than kick a tying field goal.

Better than most, Gibbs knew the ramifications of such a make-or-break choice for both Vermeil's team and ticker.

Good thing the Chiefs scored.

"That man's coaching like he's coaching his last year," Gibbs said.

Gibbs, on the other hand, is just getting started.

By his standards, that is.

This time last year, skepticism hovered about the Joe Gibbs Reunion Tour. The triumphant return of the Hall-of-Fame coach - 11 years after walking away from one of the NFL's proudest franchises and into a career managing a NASCAR team_began with four losses in five games.

Talk that Gibbs was out of touch with free-agent football, tighter rules and more sophisticated defenses appeared to have merit. Gibbs and his staff looked baffled and disorganized at times. His system of offense_once considered the most sophisticated in the game, and good enough to win three Super Bowl titles_looked archaic and ranked third-worst in the league in total yards.

At 6-10, Washington finished in last place in the NFC East, won just one division game and gave Gibbs just the second losing season of his career.

Gibbs stated during a glorious news conference announcing his return that he was about to undertake the hardest thing he'd ever do. His clairvoyance proved prophetic.

"I also said, maybe, I was to come here and go through a lot of adversity," Gibbs recalled in a teleconference last week. "Sometimes that happens in life. But I think this is what I was supposed to do, and we're just going to have to see where it leads."

Thus far in 2005, it has led into the heart of a jumbled NFC playoff push, with the next stop this afternoon at Raymond James Stadium where the Redskins (5-3) face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-3).

Gibbs opened his second Redskins stint with a 16-10 victory against the Bucs at FedEx Field last season, but that Redskins team is nothing like the one in town today.

A season after struggling with a passing attack that posted the fewest 20-yard plays in the NFL, the offense has been ignited by the rejuvenated play of quarterback Mark Brunell, a rebuilt line and the quick-strike potential of wide receiver Santana Moss.

Slowly, the Redskins are building toward what Gibbs had in mind, with last week's victory over defending NFC champion Philadelphia_Washington's first victory against the Eagles since 2001 - a nice measuring stick.

"I know Joe Gibbs well enough to know how he runs things," said Bucs Personnel Executive Doug Williams, who as a Redskins quarterback won Super Bowl XXII MVP honors for Gibbs after the 1987 season. "I knew he would find a way to get people in that he believed could do the things that needed to be done."

After last season, few could have believed Brunell would be one of those guys. Signed to a ridiculous eight-year, $43 million contract before the 2004 season (with an $8.2 million signing bonus, no less), Brunell completed less than 50 percent of his passes and arguably was the worst quarterback in the NFL last season. Eventually, he was benched for Patrick Ramsey, who wasn't much better.

In a 9-7 season-opening victory over Chicago, Brunell relieved Ramsey, who had suffered a concussion. Brunell has started since.

Though the Redskins aren't scoring a lot of points, the offense ranks 11th overall and can claim seven players with receptions of at least 20 yards. Brunell has thrown 12 touchdowns, just three interceptions and boasts a passer rating of 90.3.

But things have hardly been perfect. Take the 36-0 road loss to the New York Giants two weeks ago. But instead of tanking after a game some longtime observers called one of the ugliest defeats in franchise history, the Redskins showed resolve in bouncing back to defeat the Eagles.

That probably would not have happened last season.

"The biggest factor in the turnaround has been being together a year, being in the system," Brunell said. "It's good to be back in the mix again."

Gibbs admittedly had his doubts at times last fall, but he stayed the course.

"The past doesn't buy you anything. You're starting over," Gibbs said. "You're trying to get to know the players, the people in the organization. I think it was a big learning curve for me."

It takes a humble coach_and there aren't many_to admit to a learning curve. This one has the sixth-best winning percentage in NFL history (.659), and he already has a bust in Canton, Ohio.

"If you're away 14 years working in the NASCAR business, just watching a few games on TV, yeah, it's going to take some time," Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "But he's home now. This guy is so good. You just knew he was going to get back on track."

When Gibbs shocked the Redskins by announcing his retirement after the 1992 season, he spoke nostalgically about how his time in coaching had sapped precious moments away from his family. A notorious workaholic, Gibbs spent weeknights sleeping on a cot in his office at Redskins Park.

Upon his return, he made a promise to his wife to come home at night and take better care of himself. Gibbs looks and feels great these days, but on a recent scouting trip to D.C., Williams ran into Gibbs' son, Coy, now a quality control assistant with the Redskins.

Said the younger Gibbs: "It's the same as it used to be_long hours."

Those who know Gibbs best figured that would never change.

They also figured he wouldn't lose for very long.

"Football is football. I think if you allow or say that the times have changed, then the times will have changed," said Bucs tight ends coach Ron Middleton, who played the same position for Gibbs' third Super Bowl winner during the 1991 season. "It's a simple game. It's still blocking and tackling and being physical. Coach Gibbs hasn't forgotten how to do any of those things, I guarantee you that.

"Salary caps? Free agency? That stuff doesn't mean anything on Sunday. Now, I'm not na{iumlau}ve enough to say that doesn't have its place in the game. The rules are the rules. But, again, it comes down to football being football. And Coach Gibbs is one of the greatest football coaches of all time."

Gibbs had a comfy life and was winning championships in NASCAR. He just as well could have been in Phoenix today and Homestead next weekend, with his headset tuned into Tony Stewart and his pit crew in their chase for a points title.

Apparently, that wasn't stressful enough.

"I kind've felt like this was what we needed to be doing," Gibbs said.

No one in Washington would argue.

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What a moron...i hate when the media stretches stuff and makes us look bad...

we finished third not last....giants finished last...

I would attribute that to sloppy fact checking rather than a bias against us given the positive flavor of the article. Paranoid much?
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classy article.

really weird how many big-name former skins personnel there is working for the bucs now.

Check out the Media Notes in Tarhogs Extreme Game Primer stuck up at the top. There's an exhaustive list of the connections, some of them fairly remote, along with just about any fact and statistic you can think of.

Those notes are posted every game and they're awesome. If you're not familiar with them you need to check them out. But beware, they are extremely addicting!

<edit> The one that surprised me: In 1978, Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs coordinated the Buccaneers offense. I guess I knew that, but somehow forgot.

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