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FS: Gibbs' 'Midas Touch' will be tested


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Gibbs' 'Midas Touch' will be tested

Gibbs' 'Midas Touch' will be tested


BACK IN JANUARY, Cory Raymer was in a usual offseason spot (a bar in Nebraska) when he saw a decidedly unusual piece of information.

Crawling across the bottom of a TV screen was the stunning news that Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs was returning to coach the Washington Redskins after an 11-year absence.

"I wasn't even a part of the Redskins, but a chill went down my spine," Raymer says.

Raymer soon returned to the team that drafted him in 1995 to play backup center for the man who made that franchise famous--and who has accepted the daunting challenge of resurrecting it.

"This team and this city deserve it," Raymer says. "He's one of the greatest of all time. He's one of the legends."

The facts don't lie. In a dozen seasons in Washington (1981-92), Gibbs won 140 of 205 games (68.3 percent) and three Super Bowl titles--each with a different starting quarterback and tailback.

In the 11 seasons since his abrupt retirement for health reasons, the Redskins have made exactly one playoff appearance and gone through five head coaches (one interim).

Meanwhile, Gibbs was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and built a NASCAR racing team that boasted a pair of Winston Cup champions in Bobby Labonte (2000) and Tony Stewart (2002).

"He commands so much respect," Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington said. "I'm amazed just at the way people flock to him. It makes you want to play for him."

It takes a special man to generate buzz around a perennially mediocre franchise. In a political city, Gibbs has bipartisan support and almost messiah-like status.

Hundreds of fans gathered at Redskins Park in Ashburn on the day Gibbs was introduced, and thousands attended the first day of training camp--many arriving as early as 5 a.m.

Says Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington: "The man's got the Midas touch."

A proven winner

Among NFL coaches with 100 career victories, only two had a higher winning percentage than Gibbs' .683. Coincidentally, both--Vince Lombardi (.750) and George Allen (.686)--once coached the Redskins.

But neither won a Super Bowl in D.C. Gibbs won three, and the trophies greet visitors as they walk through the front door of Redskins Park in Ashburn, near Dulles Airport.

They help bridge the generation gap between Gibbs, 63, and players barely a third his age. His first-round draft pick, Sean Taylor, hadn't even been born when Gibbs won his first Super Bowl in 1983.

A disarming high-pitched cackle and a genuine self-deprecating sense of humor also help.

As cornerback Fred Smoot puts it: "It's like playing for my granddad."

But most men Gibbs' age are retired or looking forward to it. They're playing golf, not devoting 100 hours per week to combating a zone blitz.

But Gibbs knows no substitute for hard work--especially as he tries to reacquaint himself with a game that has changed substantially on and off the field in the past decade.

"Joe Gibbs will not let any stone go unturned," says Gregg Williams, Gibbs' assistant head coach for defense.

'You're back, Joe'

Gibbs knew next to nothing about auto racing when he founded his racing team in 1991, so he wisely surrounded himself with people who did.

He did the same when he returned to the sideline.

"As far as team building, it's exactly the same [as before]," Gibbs said. "You're still looking for the same qualities. People don't change; the same things still motivate people."

Gibbs scored a coup by hiring former Buffalo Bills coach Williams to lead his defense. He brought back several former assistants for his offensive staff (Joe Bugel, Don Breaux, Rennie Simmons and Jack Burns). He also hired Ernest Byner, the tailback on his final title team, to coach running backs.

And he picked all of his assistants' brains in a crash course in 21st-century NFL 101.

"One of Joe's strengths is, he sizes people up very quickly," Breaux said. "It's just a gift he has. He knows what kind of people he wants on his team."

Gibbs vowed not to repeat the same monomaniacal work habits that led to his burnout a decade earlier, but he's already had a shower and bed installed at Redskins Park for his frequent all-nighters.

His few skeptics wondered if Gibbs could adapt to the NFL's rapid evolution. Innovations such as zone blitzes and salary caps took awhile to grasp.

But this is a man who invented the position now known as H-back, a hybrid tight-end/fullback.

"It took a little while to get into the flow," says Breaux, the offensive coordinator. "He'd been away some 12 years, and even the terminology is different.

"Fortunately, I saved some old game plans. My wife said, 'Why would you dig those old things out?' Well, this is why. At least we don't have to kill the snake twice."

And while the athletes are bigger and stronger and the defenses more aggressive, Gibbs' game plan isn't exactly obsolete.

"It's proven. This isn't an experiment," quarterback Mark Brunell says. "It's worked before in pro football. It's won three Super Bowls. And there's every reason to believe it'll work again if we do it right."

Breaux, who began coaching with Gibbs in 1967 at Florida State, noticed an epiphany during one late-night skull session.

"About six weeks into what we were doing, something happened," he says. "I don't want to say exactly what it was, but I looked at him and said, 'You're back, Joe.'"

A tough act to follow

Sequels rarely live up to the hype. Remember "Caddyshack II?"

Gibbs probably doesn't, because he rarely had time for anything except football, church and family during his first tenure as coach.

Even so, he's fully aware of the inherent pressure--maybe not to live up to his sterling achievements of the past, but at least to make the Redskins respectable again.

Will his "Midas touch" work again? Or will he struggle and tarnish his legend?

Gibbs is well aware of the risk. "We're operating without a net," he said.

The consensus is that if Gibbs can't turn around the franchise, no one can. He's guaranteed nothing aside from hard work and preparation, trying to temper rampant optimism in a city that suffers with every loss and and has endured a decade of mediocrity.

"I'm older; hopefully I'm a little wiser," Gibbs says. "The first go-around, I had really good people, and a really good coaching staff. I was fortunate. This time, who knows?"

It's important to remember that Gibbs lost his first five games as an NFL head coach in 1981. He also lost most of his savings in an ill-conceived real estate investment in the 1980s.

Through devout faith, hard work and good judgment, he always seemed to land on his feet. One year after starting 0-5, he won the Super Bowl. He was known as the best in the NFL at halftime adjustments.

"That's one thing about pro sports. There's a lot of ups and downs. It tests a lot of people," Gibbs says. "There are two things I've had to deal with: adversity and success. Chances are, you'll get a little bit of both.

"That's why it's so challenging--and enjoyable. When you can get people from diverse backgrounds to sacrifice their goals for the team.That's why people enjoy it."

Gibbs is clearly enjoying the challenge of high-profile competition again. As his son, J.D., took more of a hands-on role with his racing team, Gibbs grew restless.

When owner Daniel Snyder--who grew up idolizing Gibbs and the Redskins--called, a re-energized Gibbs was ready to listen. He prayed, consulted with "the boss" (his wife, Pat) and decided to try again.

A tall order

It won't be easy. Gibbs lost his most consistent blocker, right tackle Jon Jansen, for the year with a torn Achilles' tendon in the preseason. His quarterback, Brunell, was a backup on a losing team in Jacksonville last year.

His defensive line is average at best, and he traded away his disgruntled best cover cornerback (Champ Bailey) for the tailback (Clinton Portis) who'll become the new foundation of his offense.

Plus, he's coaching in the same division as his old rival, Bill Parcells, and the underrated Andy Reid.

But Gibbs already has succeeded in one area: reversing a decade-old losing mind-set. No one talks about former coach Steve Spurrier and his laissez-faire approach to preparation, but it's clear that the approach has changed.

"We're hungry. We're sick of losing around here," tackle Chris Samuels said. "We want to make the playoffs."

Gibbs cut former starting middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and demoted incumbent quarterback Patrick Ramsey behind Brunell. Bugel overhauled the blocking technique of struggling left tackle Chris Samuels, a two-time Pro Bowler.

It's been tough love. Each message was delivered with a smile or a pat on the back, but the gist always was clear.

Said Breaux: "One thing Joe has always been able to do is convince players that they're all in it together."

Gibbs also brought back several Redskins alumni to share stories with the current generation of players.

"It's a belief," said Arrington, the team's unofficial spokesman, who's playing for his fourth head coach in a five-year career. "Once you're around the tradition and see what the Washington Redskins tradition is about--the fans, the trophies, the banners, what the players stand for--you get a good idea what you're here to do. You want to represent the burgundy and gold the right way.

"It's been force-fed to us since Joe Gibbs took the job. It's a beautiful thing. I still believe in it, and I'll defend it."

The Redskins will get far more national attention than a team coming off a 5-11 season deserves. They have three national prime-time appearances scheduled.

And it's not because of Arrington or Portis or Brunell. It's because of Gibbs.

"It's a privilege to play for him," Brunell said. "The whole NFL should be glad that a great coach--and an even better person--decided to come back."

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That's it, Bubba. I'm done...cut me off. I'm so high from the nostalgia of these latest reports that I'm floating on a burgundy & gold cloud hovering over a world filled with silver & blue. More goosebumps & now more pumped. We are in the last stretch of the off-season, with one week left before the regular season actually starts & I'm so fired up in anticipation, my head is about to explode! This is gonna the longest week in human history!

:point2sky :logo: :point2sky :logo: :point2sky

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