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In his Skin

Times have changed, but Joe Gibbs hasn't, and that's why he'll win

Posted: Monday January 12, 2004 10:13AM; Updated: Monday January 12, 2004 10:13AM

FOXBORO, Mass. -- In August 1988, while covering the Giants and the NFL for Newsday, I went to Carlisle, Pa., to write a feature story on Joe Gibbs. Tough duty. Gibbs didn't know me, had no interest in giving much time to some newspaper on Long Island I doubt he'd even heard of, and was less inclined to talk about himself during training camp than he might have during a less-pressured time of the year.

But after spending a couple of days in Carlisle, and after talking to his best friends in the world, I learned a lot about Gibbs. I learned, mostly, that he lives to compete. He's a sicko about competition. That was the theme of my story. I am told Gibbs, at 63, is precisely the same guy I profiled in 1988. If that's so, he will endure some sleepless nights starting right now. Oh, he might say he won't sleep in the office. Poppy****.

"Coaching,'' he said, "is a gut-wrenching, throw-up experience every Sunday.''

That's what life will be like for the Redskins. Here's what else I can tell you about Gibbs:

He's a jock, even now. He plays golf, racquetball and cards, hunts, and jogs. He has parasailed, snow-skied, water-skied, gone skindiving, drag-raced, motocrossed, stock-car raced and built a funny car.

He has passed his love of competition on to his kids.

As he told me in 1988: "My son, Coy, had a great statement one night. I was talking to him in his room, talking about heaven. He was about 8. He said, `Hey, I'm not sure I'm going to like heaven.' I said, `What do you mean, Coy?' He said, 'There's not going to be any thrill.' I asked him what he meant and he said, 'You can't die.' "My answer to this was: 'I guarantee you, Coy, for guys like you and me, there'll be some thrill up there. We'll drive race cars or something. God'll make something for us.'

"What he was saying, really, was he can't die because there's no risk after death. There's no losing, no winning. He'd hate that. I think [risk] is a big factor in our society. There are a lot of guys working in an office who are extremely competitive. [When] I started getting older and people would say, `Are you going to grow up?' I'd say, `No. I'm going to keep playing something.' "

Coy will join his dad on the Redskins' staff.

Gibbs keeps no clocks in the coaches' offices. Moral of the story: You work until you get the job done. "It's like Las Vegas,'' his offensive line coach, Joe Bugel, said. "Time doesn't matter.'' (Not to pick on Steve Spurrier, who is such an easy target these days, but my favorite story of the Spurrier regime is that one of his assistants saw newly signed quarterback Tim Hasselbeck in the office one Tuesday, an off-day, at 4 in the afternoon studying tape. The assistant said: "What are you doing in here? It's your day off! Get out of here.'' Hasselbeck, sadly, obeyed, even though he realized he was going to be playing soon, and he knew next-to-nothing about the offense. Instead of studying six more hours so he would know his stuff when practice began the next day, Hasselbeck left the office. That would've never happened under Gibbs.)

The devout Gibbs won't curse. He will look down on those who do. Dadgum is OK. So is goldang. Someone curses and he'll say something like: "Don't curse. Bad luck to curse.''

Though he often paid scant attention to his own personal life during his first go-round as Redskins coach, Gibbs felt his players' relationships with their families were as important as any X's and O's. "Whatever your business is, we all have a drama going on in our own lives," Gibbs said. "We're all unhappy about something. You have sickness, marital problems, a myriad of things going wrong in everybody's life. You have to deal with those things right away. You have to get their full concentration on football. I'd like to be able to communicate even more with my players when things aren't going bad, but it's just like everything else in life. The problems take over, and you wind up chasing the problems. I'd say handling people is the most important thing you do as a coach. Dealing with people, really, is all football is.''

He has to win. He's a miserable loser. At age 29, when he was an assistant coach at USC, Gibbs took up racquetball. He became obsessed with the game. In 1973, while coaching the St. Louis Cardinals, after night meetings ended, Gibbs sometimes played in the racquetball court inside Busch Stadium until the wee hours. In 1976, at age 35, he won the national 35-and-over U.S. Racquetball Championship. "After I finished with team sports," Gibbs said, "it was almost like I was crazed. I had to have something to do. Racquetball filled a void in my life, a personal competitive thing. I started driving all over the country to tournaments. After the fourth or fifth year, I'm sitting up there at the national tournament in Milwaukee in some hotel room playing cards with 16-year-old kids. I said to myself, `What am I doing?' ''

Back to football. He thinks you quite literally can't win without a good coaching staff. "You're with the guys every day for six months. You're in the same little old room, the same 12-by-12 room, and you're in a pressure cooker. And you depend on them so much to succeed. If you've got someone who's a jerk, a real jerk, you'd be in real trouble."

I have an acquaintance who knows the Redskins and owner Dan Snyder very well. On Friday, my acquaintance and I spoke, and I asked him if he thinks, finally, Snyder has gotten his team right with the hire of Gibbs.

"There is no question in my mind or in in anyone's mind that Dan has hit a home run by hiring Joe,'' Deep Redskin told me. "This is the best move he's made since he bought the team.''

But ...

"But there are two questions. First, the honeymoon isn't the time any hard questions can be answered. Wait till the bullets start flying, and wait till Dan gets pissed off at something Joe does, or after some big loss. That's when you'll be able to judge if this relationship's going to work. Second, this hire had better work. This team is the king of the offseason, but then what happens? First it was signing Deion Sanders and Bruce Smith in 2000, then Marty Schottenheimer in 2001, then Steve Spurrier in 2002, then Laveranues Coles and the Jets free agents last year. Now Joe. If this doesn't work, who's Dan going to hire next year? The pope?''

Snyder might have hired him last week.

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Those Spurrier stories definitely made it sound as if we didn't have a shot going into some of our games.

It's incredible that we played as well as we did half the time.

Under Gibbs I see us having a team like New England (not 14-2) where our last guy on the roster can come in and contribute if called upon. That'll be one of the biggest differences between last year and this coming year IMO.

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Originally posted by GSF

Great read. The SOS stories are troubling Art, but I know you're not surprised by them.

No. Not surprised, as the obvious nature of our team's failings being the coaching staff above all else. I guess I'm kind of surprised just how bad it was. Even more surprised that so many here seemed to think the problem with the team was somewhere other than with Spurrier.

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When I heard stories of Spurriers lack of discipline during the season, I just shrugged it off and said "They are probably exaggerating the stories because they hate Spurrier." Now that he's gone, I see things in another light. All those stories of SOS teaching John Hall little tricks he could do with a football and then about the cell phone's during meetings, and now this, are only the beginning of the things we'll hear.

Thank you Snyder for getting Gibbs. Your job is now secure.

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Originally posted by Art

The Spurrier stories just become more and more troubling.

Yes they do, but I want to hear them. I want to hear the nitty gritty details about all the BS that was going on under Spurrier.

Assistants playing touch football on the field before a game??? WTF!

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Originally posted by Art

No. Not surprised, as the obvious nature of our team's failings being the coaching staff above all else. I guess I'm kind of surprised just how bad it was. Even more surprised that so many here seemed to think the problem with the team was somewhere other than with Spurrier.

I'm not at all surprised by how bad it was b/c it showed on the field. Like Redman said, the guy was the epitome of a slacker. Heck, he public joked about other nfl coaches working too long hours before he even had started coaching. What an ASS!

I am surprised, like you, though by how so many extremers defended this guy right up to the end. I was ready to cancel my Sunday ticket and stop watching Skins games b/c I couldn't bare the thought of watching us flounder under SOS for another season. Needless to say, I feel a little differently now!:cheers:

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