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KRT: Failure not an option for Gibbs


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Failure not an option for Gibbs


Knight Ridder Newspapers

ASHBURN, Va. - (KRT) - Excited and nervous. A man, a legend, with three Super Bowl titles and 20 years experience to his name, feels both despite - or maybe because of - adoring fans who clamor for his autograph and players who hang on his every command.

Joe Gibbs is sweetly excited and nervous and not shy to admit it. Now back atop the Washington Redskins, his is an existence of enormous expectations. He returned to the storied franchise after an 11-year hiatus during which he built a family race-car business while the Redskins collapsed under the guidance of a revolving door of coaches.

As a last gasp in January, Washington owner Daniel Snyder coaxed Gibbs back to the fold. So here Gibbs sits - excited and nervous.

Gibbs is excited because Redskins fans showed up in droves for the team's training camp, if for no other reason than to glimpse the master in motion, working almost exclusively with the quarterbacks and receivers. He is excited because the fans, for good reason, have hope.

Gibbs is nervous because of what he doesn't know. While he was building a successful NASCAR business headlined by popular drivers Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett, the NFL added the two-point conversion, instant replay, and coach-to-quarterback headset communication. The coach is nervous because his roster is not yet stocked.

And Gibbs is nervous because failure is not an option.

"I'm going to enjoy it," Gibbs said quietly after an early August practice, "if we win."

Gibbs, 63, knows about winning. In his first and only head coaching job, Gibbs led the Redskins to a 124-60 record from 1981 to `92. He had 11 winning seasons, made eight playoff appearances, and won five division titles and four NFC championships. Gibbs' three Super Bowl wins, like those of former San Francisco coach Bill Walsh, are more than Vince Lombardi, Don Shula and Tom Landry, and second only to Chuck Noll, who led Pittsburgh to four titles.

But winning is something from which the Redskins strayed in Gibbs' prolonged absence. Richie Pettibon was fired after one disastrous season when he ushered in the post-Gibbs era with a 4-12 record. Although he made the playoffs once, Norv Turner was sub-.500 in his seven seasons and was fired late in the 2000 season. Marty Schottenheimer lasted all of a year, and Steve Spurrier was, to be kind, a colossal failure.

That four-headed monster combined for a 74-101 record, which was not good for business.

LaVar Arrington remembered hearing the news in January that Snyder, a free spender who thought he had his man in the highly paid Spurrier, had hired Gibbs.

"Isn't he a race-car guy?" Arrington, the three-time all-pro linebacker out of Penn State, recalled earlier this month. "That was my reaction. I thought he gave (football) up."

Then Arrington had another thought.

"My reaction was, if it is indeed true that he's coming back, then this truly is the final frontier for the Washington Redskins," Arrington said. "If Coach Gibbs can't get us back on track - and I know this is a lot of pressure on him - if "he can't get us back on track, I can't see who would.

"He's got a Midas touch. He pays attention to detail, and it really shows. It really pays off in everything he does. So, I'm putting all my hopes and dreams in him."

So are Washington fans.

On the third day of training camp at the Redskins' out-of-the-way practice facility in northern Virginia, a downpour delayed the start of the afternoon workout. Although the grassy parking lot turned into an auburn, muddy mess, and raindrops were the size of grapes, fans stuck it out to watch an abbreviated workout on artificial turf.

Afterward, Gibbs worked the crowd like an experienced politician. "Thanks for coming back," one man in an old Joe Jacoby jersey said. "No, thank you for coming out," Gibbs replied.

He is gracious. He is self-deprecating. And he knows he is preaching to a receptive congregation.

"Learning from Coach Gibbs, you realize that in time he's going to put you in a great position," said running back Clinton Portis, whom the Redskins traded for in March. "Him doing the things he did with NASCAR and being successful, then coming back to this circuit and having a lot of expectations, you know he'll be successful. Over time, he's proven that he's a successful man."

"He's changed my whole outlook on football," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "He teaches football. He's the granddaddy. He's the guy you want to go out and not let down."

That is Gibbs' feeling now, too. He does not want to let down the owner, the players, his staff and certainly not the fans.

So the coach turned race-car owner turned coach again enters this next challenge with dueling emotions, excited and nervous. But success is never far from him. Two of his drivers, Jarrett in 2000 and the controversial young Stewart in 2002, won NASCAR's season championship.

"The biggest thing from NASCAR I learned was that motor sports is exactly like football," Gibbs said. "It was amazing to me. We had 200 people working on race cars, and when you get 200 people together in a sport where you have money and competition, things happen and you can have a nightmare.

"Both sports are strictly people sports. Yeah, you've got a car over there, but the car is not what wins. It's the people. And then over here, you've got X's and O's and helmets and shoulder pads, but it's the people who are going to win."

Win he must. But Gibbs has this on his side: "There are a lot of guys who have a need for speed around here," Smoot said.

That in itself should make Gibbs more excited and just a little less nervous.


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