Cooke's lavish budget pays dividends for Skins

January 15, 1992|By Rich Hofmann | Rich Hofmann,Philadelphia Daily News

WASHINGTON -- Anybody who's been around Joe Gibbs for any amount of time has heard him say it. "I'm one of the most fortunate guys in coaching," Gibbs says, and most everybody knows what he's talking about.

It's not his players. He loves his players, but that isn't it. No, it's his owner. It's Jack Kent Cooke, the little old guy with the ascot who's there on television, patting Magic Johnson on the back, pumping hands in his private box at RFK Stadium, leading the Washington Redskins to still another Super Bowl and doing it with a style all his own.

He doesn't slap backs in the locker room. He doesn't get quoted in the newspapers much at all. All he does is give his team everything it needs to win, and then pretty much gets out of the way and leaves it to his football people.

You want to spend $6 million and two first-round draft choices to pry linebacker Wilber Marshall away from the Chicago Bears? Can he help us win? OK, do it.

You want to spend more than $3 million on all these Plan B guys I've never heard of? You want to spend all of that money even though you know right now that a lot of these guys are just going to get cut anyway? OK, do it.

You want to spend $1 million on running back Gerald Riggs, even though you're only going to use him as the most special of specialists, right near the goal line? If that's what it takes, OK, do it.

You want to spend the better part of the '80s stashing players on injured reserve, all kinds of players, tons of players, an embarrassing number of players, none of whom are bothered by anything more debilitating than a hangnail? You want to do that even though the rest of the owners in the NFL are squawking a little, like they did about Marshall? OK, do it.

Now, all of this might be a little bit on the insane side of fiscal sanity. All of this is also a drop in Cooke's very large bucket, which is said to hold more than $1 billion. The man is loaded; so is his team.

Two years ago, 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, the undisputed king of NFL spending, spent the better part of his fourth Super Bowl week denying the notion that it's possible to spend your way to the big game. Since Cooke doesn't talk to reporters much, he won't have the same problems next week in Minneapolis.

But it's a question that's still worthy of consideration. The Redskins are now heading to their fifth Super Bowl under Cooke, their fourth under Gibbs. And while he might not lavish money on people as DeBartolo does, Cooke gives Gibbs everything he could want -- and Gibbs knows it.

"People wonder how bad you want it," Gibbs said the other day, another Super Bowl staring him in the face. "I tell people I want it more than any of the others. I think I'm being honest about that. That's the way I feel. You want to win it for Mr. Cooke, who has been so great to work for."

Gibbs went on to name general manager Charley Casserly and his players, but Cooke is the guy. They seem to have a pretty special relationship. A couple of times a week, Cooke goes out to Redskin Park and chats with his coach. In turn, Gibbs gives him a size-up of what's going on. Every personnel move gets run past Cooke before it's made. The owner obviously has veto power, but he also quite obviously practices the most important rule of management: Supervise your people, but hire good ones and let them do their jobs.

And, again, Gibbs knows how good he has it.

"It takes guts to stand pat [with a coach]," Gibbs said. "It takes real strong people. Mr. Cooke could have unloaded me a couple of times. Thank goodness he didn't."

To be honest, Gibbs has not had many rough times. But he did start out 0-5 in 1981, his first season. And there was a bit of malaise a couple of years ago, and some open worrying by Gibbs about his future. But Cooke held firm. And now, he's laughing all the way to the Super Bowl. Again.

Of course, there is another side to this rosy story. Cooke is currently getting barbecued in an unauthorized biography that is on the bookshelves. A recent Sports Illustrated profile wasn't all that flattering, either.

At age 79, the man is working on wife No. 4. There have been three marriages since 1980. His first divorce was settled by the courts in 1979. His ex-wife received $41 million. The judge who decided the amount was Joseph Wapner. Yeah, him.

That first divorce split his family. Sons were forced to choose sides, and the one who chose his mother became pretty much a non-person, according to the reports. His second marriage lasted only 10 months. His third marriage lasted only 73 days, and the child from that one -- Jacqueline Kent Cooke -- apparently has seen her father in person only once. And now he's married to a woman from Bolivia who did 3 1/2 months in jail on a cocaine charge.

Nevertheless, official Washington appears to be unfazed by all of these stories. Every week that the Redskins are home, Cooke becomes to Washington what Perle Mesta used to be in the nation's capital. His box at RFK is the place to be and be seen.

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