Gibbs Hands Off the Playbook And Now Eyes the Super Bowl
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ASHBURN, Va. — Coy Gibbs was concerned last year when the boss started looking drained and frazzled, day after day. His father hardly had the look of a man who was disproving the naysayers by leading the Washington Redskins back to the playoffs.
“You hate it as a son,” said Gibbs, who works as an assistant with the team’s offensive staff. “You’re like, ‘C’mon, you’re killing yourself.’ But he loves it. He truly does.”
As November became December and losses became wins, many at Redskins Park began to wonder if Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs had stretched himse lf too thin in his dogged attempt to win one more championship after emerging from a long retirement.
The elder Gibbs always had been a workaholic, but now he was a diabetic in his mid-60s and had taken on an extra job — team president — that he didn’t have when he was winning three Super Bowls in the 1980s and early 1990s.
“We all worry about him, that he was doing so much,” said team trainer and longtime friend Bubba Tyer. “Since I’ve known him, he’s been the man in charge. There’s always that deal about how late they work, how little sleep they get.”
But did Tyer ever address these concerns directly to Gibbs?
“I think I did one time — and he told me where to go,” Tyer said.
In the end, only Joe Gibbs can stop Joe Gibbs, and that’s what finally happened. Once the Redskins were done after a second-round playoff loss at Seattle, Gibbs met with Kansas City assistant Al Saunders and said,”I don’t know if I can do those 20-hour days any more.”
Gibbs then did the unthinkable: He gave up his brainchild. He hired Saunders to design and run the offense and call the plays, the first time Gibbs as a head coach has entrusted those duties to anyone else.
“I think after two years, he realized that he may kill himse lf — and kill all of us,” said assistant coach Joe Bugel, another longtime friend of Gibbs. “Being the president of the organization also, what’s different is that it’s yearround now, free agency, the draft, all these personnel problems, so Joe finally stepped back and said ‘Hey, I answer to the owner. I’d better not spread myself out so thin that I don’t have answers for anything.’ “
Gibbs’s new role is visible to the public for the first time during training camp, but he already has had six months to adjust during the team’s offseason strategy meetings and practices.At various times, the 65-year-old coach has been asked if it feels strange not having his hands directly on the offense. He usually responds simply that “it’s different”— or he just cracks a joke.
“My goal is to gradually work myself out of a job,” Gibbs said with his highpitched laugh. “Get the best assistant coaches you can, get the best players you can, then go on automatic pilot. Have somebody wake me up every now and then when they want to know if we want to go for a field goal.”
But Gibbs already is sensing the payoff.
The off-season was a mess, trying to sort out free agency permutations when the league’s collective bargaining talks with the union were teetering. Then came planning for the draft and other personnel issues.While dealing with the various dramas, Gibbs was secure in the knowledge that the offensive planning meetings were going along as scheduled — unlike in the past.
“Al’s back there, I don’t have to worry about it,” Gibbs said. “There are so many things that come up, so in dealing with those things a lot of times I was in a hurry to get back there because I felt like those guys are waiting. You cut things short.To me,[Al’s hiring] came at a good time.”
With Saunders in tow, Gibbs is able to focus on what he does best: Select the players he wants, motivate them and mold them into a unit.Besides, his old offense really wasn’t doing that well. It took nearly a year back from retirement for him to realize his attack was antiquated, and last year’s run ended with tepid performances in the playoffs against Tampa Bay and Seattle.
Most important, the lighter load offers Gibbs the stamina to accomplish his main goal. Gibbs did not leave NASCAR for the NFL just to prove he can make the playoffs again — he wants a fourth Super Bowl ring.
Saunders and Bugel recalled a recent offseason speech in which Gibbs told the team: “Winning is good, but we’re here to win it all.”
The Redskins indeed could be a contender this season.They are solid in 20 of 22 starting positions entering camp, although the season probably will hinge on whether soon-to-be 36-year-old quarterback Mark Brunell can put together a solid, injury-free season.
Gibbs doesn’t recall making that “win it all” speech to his players and explained it away by saying, “Everybody’s probably got those goals.” Regardless, he’ll be trying to achieve them with an approach that, in theory at least, shouldn’t have him exhausted byThanksgiving.
“It’ll be different,” Gibbs said. “It’s kind of a new territory for me.”