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NYT: "Joe Gibbs Adds Spice to Vanilla Wafer" (Gibbs profle, mentions Riggins)

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http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/05/sports/othersports/05LIPS.html (Registration required)


May 5, 2002


Joe Gibbs Adds Spice to Vanilla Wafer


"God created Eden, the perfect world," said Joe Gibbs at lunch last week. "But he loved us so much that he gave us free will. And, of course, we went out and sinned. But he forgave us."

I said: "Am I missing something here? Is this about you and John Riggins, about you and Tony Stewart?"

Gibbs giggled, an endearing sound in such a solid-looking man, and shook his head. He was not going to be drawn into a comparison with, in his words, the Head Coach. "People think I'm a vanilla wafer, a goody-two-shoes," he said, slipping the block. "What people miss on me is that I love characters. I love wild men. They are some of the most productive players."

I said, "Like John Riggins and Tony Stewart."

He smiled. Now he was ready to play.

"I loved John Riggins," Gibbs said. "Not everything that he did, not the late-night carousing. But I loved the man. He wanted to win; he wanted the ball. Tony's the same way. He makes me nervous."

Gibbs was in town promoting his new book, "Racing to Win: Establish Your Game Plan for Success" (Multnomah, $21.99), written with Ken Abraham. It is an inspirational memoir filled with "cornerstone principles" for making money and living a Christian life. I most enjoyed the passages about Riggins and Stewart, two of the more engaging athletes of my time and two who would seem incompatible with a righteous vanilla wafer.

Riggins was the ferocious fullback on the first of Gibbs's three Super Bowl champions. Newly installed as the Washington Redskins' coach, Gibbs arrived unannounced at Riggins's Kansas home to talk him into coming out of retirement. It was part of his technique, he told me at lunch, of "making someone feel important, that you really want him."

Riggins laughed at the story. "I was bored and broke," he said. "I was ready to go back.

"Basically, I was uncoachable. I missed practices, I stayed out late. But Gibbs knew that he didn't have to worry about me on Sunday afternoon. And I knew he wouldn't be in my face every 10 minutes. We had a tacit understanding that we could use each other to get to where we both wanted to go."

Riggins, who lives in New York now, is a motivational speaker and television personality training for a theatrical career. I saw him in an Off Broadway production of "Gillette" in March and was pleasantly surprised by his presence and grace. Like the actor Tommy Lee Jones, whom he resembles, he can quickly move from amiability to menace.

But "character" is what Coach Gibbs saw.

"They loved John in the locker room because he was dependable and always gave his best," Gibbs said. "He was no egomaniac. He had a moral compass. And he wanted to win. Some players want the ball, some just want the check. They're willing to hide, to go along. It's like that in racing. Not all drivers are pushing all the way like Tony."

After retiring from football, Gibbs became the owner of a Nascar team. When he decided to add a second car several years ago, he went after Tony Stewart with the same exuberant persistence he used on high school prospects when he was a college coach and later on Riggins.

"He was amazing," said Stewart last week while promoting his own book, "True Speed: My Racing Life" (HarperCollins, $24.95), written with Bones Bourcier. "He called me morning and night. He had phone numbers for me that my mother didn't have, that my girlfriend didn't have. I was impressed. I thought, if he would do all this to hire me, he would use the same persistence and energy to make sure I had the best possible car to drive."

The persistence paid off. In 2000, Bobby Labonte, who drives Gibbs's Interstate Batteries car, won the Winston Cup championship, and Stewart, in the Home Depot car, led all drivers with races won. Last year, Stewart was runner-up to Jeff Gordon for the championship.

Stewart, like Riggins, is bright and volatile, often brutally honest and breathtakingly independent. In Stewart's case, his passion for driving anything on wheels, including midgets, late models and Indy cars, often the night before if not the day of Winston Cup races, has come up against Gibbs's sense of responsibility to the sponsors he has recruited with exuberant persistence.

"How can he go drive on a dirt track for a thousand dollar prize on Saturday night," said Gibbs, "when millions are riding on what he does on Sunday? We do go round and round on this and I'm glad he's not driving in the Indy 500 this year."

Stewart said: "Joe is still trying to coach, to be in control, and I love to tweak him. I'm part of his Team Blacksheep. But he's beginning to figure out that I need that dirt-track driving to chill out, to reset my buttons."

Gibbs sighed when I told him what Stewart had said. Then he laughed. "I guess I'll just have to wait until Tony gets married and his wife tells him what to do," he said.

Unsurprisingly for a Baptist, Gibbs has kept his book free of sex, drugs and dancing. But some examples of personal mistakes cut close to the bone. At 16, driving a borrowed car, he sideswiped a child on a bicycle and briefly fled the scene. He turned himself in. As the Redskins' coach, he almost bankrupted himself with a series of real estate deals.

"There was no excuse for that because God wrote in the Bible that you should never cosign a loan unless you're prepared to pay it," he said. "Now this may seem simplistic, but I regard life as a game. We're the players, and you have to go find the right head coach."

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Good read:)

I've often wondered how and why Joe would put up with Tony and his constant sh!t. I never saw the connection between Riggo and Tony, but it makes much more sense to me now.

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Originally posted by Atlanta Skins Fan

Riggins, who lives in New York now, is a motivational speaker and television personality training for a theatrical career. I saw him in an Off Broadway production of "Gillette" in March and was pleasantly surprised by his presence and grace.

I'd pay a week's salary to see John Riggins play the Nathan Lane role in "The Producers".

By the way, what kind of motivational speaker is Riggins, anyway??? "Hey, kids!!!!! Don't drink!!!! Unless you're around a Supreme Court Justice!!! Sandy was asking for it!!!! She was wearing a tight black robe!!! Remember, do your own thing, and don't take no !@$#* from nobody!!!"

Riggins was the greatest Redskins RB of all time, but I can't see him giving a speech that would motivate strangers.

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Like the actor Tommy Lee Jones, whom he resembles, he can quickly move from amiability to menace.

Wow! That is a strange coincidence. I was talking to someone about that yesterday. I had said that if I picked one actor that could play the part of John Riggins in a movie, it would have to be Tommy Lee Jones, because the voice is eerily similar, the demeanor and the swagger. The both come across as convincing when serious and when they hit your funny bone it's memorable.

Everyone just about knows the Riggins incident at the dinner and him being drunk, then the remark to Supreme Court Justice, Sarah D. O'Connor.

Tommy Lee Jones has a couple also: In the "Fugitive", Harrison Ford (playing the hunted Dr.) has just taken the weapon from Jones, points it at him and says, "I didn't kill my wife!". With his hands raised and scared shi*less, Jones replies "I don't care".

The other scene is where he rattles off every type of house to check for the fugitive (Ford).

When they speak in their matter of fact, I could care less tone, you can't tell which is which.

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