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WS:Legendary Coach Gains Instant Respect


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Legendary Coach Gains Instant Respect

By Jeff Nations

The Winchester Star


ASHBURN — That Daniel Snyder sure does live a charmed life.

A self-made millionaire in his 20s, tooling around in his private helicopter, owner of the team he grew up adoring, Snyder seems to find success even in the midst of failure.

Case in point:

— Just two years after hiring then-University of Florida head football coach Steve Spurrier to resurrect his struggling Washington Redskins franchise, Snyder was watching yet another press conference announcing a coaching change after another run of futility.

After cycling through Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie, Marty Schottenheimer, and ‘The Ball Coach’ in four years, Snyder might justifiably have earned a reputation as an owner to be avoided by prospective NFL head coaches.

Then along comes Joe Gibbs.


Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs (center) is back for his second tour of duty with the Washington Redskins.

(Photo by Rick Foster)

When Snyder announced the hiring of Gibbs — already enshrined in Canton, Ohio, as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame — as Washington’s head coach and team president on Jan. 4, the move was hailed by Redskin fans and media pundits alike as nothing less than genius.

After all, Gibbs is the man who delivered not one, not two, but three Super Bowl trophies to Washington during his initial 12-year (1981-92) tenure as the Redskins’ head coach.

His return sparked visions of the counter trey, Riggo and the Hogs, and heavy jumbo dancing through the heads of Washington faithful all along the Beltway.

Pressure? Oh yeah, lots of pressure.

Just before starting his first training camp in 12 years back in July, Gibbs admitted to feeling the heat in an interview with the Associated Press.

“I worry about letting everybody down,” Gibbs said at the time. “That’s what I’m concerned about.”

True, things have changed in the NFL since Gibbs retired into the sunset to supervise his blossoming NASCAR Nextel Cup racing team. Salary caps and increased free agency make building a team an entirely different experience.

“The way you acquire talent is totally different,” Gibbs said. “Football has changed because of the pressure defenses. The things that are the same are human nature.”

Gibbs found a way to ease the transition, bringing back the core group of his coaching staff from the Redskins’ glory days of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Joe Bugel quickly came on board, taking the title of assistant head coach, offense. A 26-year NFL coaching veteran, Bugel was with Gibbs for nine years (1981-89) before taking the Arizona Cardinals head coaching job in 1990.

“We’ve had a long run together,” Gibbs said. “We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, real tough times and great times. So I think he’s a natural fit for us.”

Gibbs didn’t stop there, bringing back Don Breaux (offensive coordinator), Jack Burns (quarterbacks), Earnest Byner (running backs), and Rennie Simmons (tight ends).

Long-time defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon isn’t back, but Gibbs still landed Gregg Williams, recently fired as the Buffalo Bills’ head coach but still widely considered a defensive whiz.

With his coaching staff firmly in place, Gibbs quickly turned his attention to the Redskins’ roster. Accustomed to having a veteran quarterback to lead his offense, he spearheaded a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars that landed Mark Brunell.

Saddled with a woeful running game, Gibbs made the tough call to trade unhappy All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey to the Denver Broncos for talented running back Clinton Portis.

To help the defense, the Redskins added cornerback Shawn Springs and linebackers Mike Barrow and Marcus Washington, then used their first-round draft pick on safety Sean Taylor.

Even with an entirely new team, Gibbs didn’t need to earn the respect of any of his players. The Redskins see his resume every day, in the trophy case at Redskin Park.

“You walk in and you see those three trophies up there every day and his name’s on all of them,” Redskins defensive tackle Brandon Noble said. “He brings instant credibility.”

Gibbs has long been known as a perfectionist and a workaholic, a reputation his team quickly found out is all too accurate.

Demanding is a common word used by the Redskins to describe Gibbs, not that they mind. The team hasn’t had a winning season in four years, and few were around for Washington’s last playoff appearance in 1999.

Gibbs, whose .683 winning percentage ranks best all-time among coaches with at least 125 wins, led the Redskins to the playoffs eight times.

“The professionalism — point blank, just being a professional, playing football and knowing your responsibility,” cornerback Fred Smoot said of the changes Gibbs has brought to the franchise. “That’s what the biggest thing is around here. Coach (Gibbs) has brought a whole new atmosphere around here.”

Fullback Rock Cartwright likes Gibbs’ no-nonsense, rapid-fire approach to coaching. But while his new coach expects more from him, Cartwright appreciates the attention to detail.

“Once you take care of small things, the big things take care of themselves,” Cartwright said. “He takes time to explain things, and that’s what you need. He gives us a purpose for why we run this play or run that play. He takes time to do that.”

After leading the Redskins to a 20-17 win in the preseason Hall of Fame game, Gibbs got his first taste of his new home field — FedEx Field — when Washington hosted the Carolina Panthers on Aug. 14.

“It was certainly different for me,” said Gibbs, who previously coached his home games at RFK Stadium. “I hadn’t been here coaching in this stadium. I think the familiarity of it will be a little different the next time coming back for me. So it was a little bit strange.”

In typical Gibbs fashion, Washington has given little away in the preseason with their strictly vanilla offensive and defensive sets. The team has played sporadically on both sides of the ball, but don’t look too much into that.

“It’s kind of like playing for my granddad,” Smoot said. “He doesn’t have to cuss you, he doesn’t have to do anything. He can look at you and just smile, but you know he means business.

“That is someone you want to go out there and lay it on the line for. I’m not leaving this field until I can’t walk anymore. I can see why they won those Super Bowls.”

While they might not be expecting a similar run of success, Washington’s legions of fans are hoping Gibbs again lead the franchise to glory.

Gibbs hopes the same thing, in his modest way.

“We never have to worry about our fans,” Gibbs said. “They’ll do their part. We’ve just got to do ours.”


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