Petitbon scores before time runs out JOE GIBBS RETIRES

March 06, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

ASHBURN, Va. -- Richie Petitbon was disappointed two months ago when he was bypassed by the Chicago Bears for their head coaching job.

Petitbon played for George Halas' last championship team in Chicago in 1963, and the Bears' job was one of the few that he was interested in.

Petitbon, 54, even turned down an interview for the Denver Broncos' job because he didn't think the situation was right for him. He was resigned to the fact he might be a career assistant.

"Time was running out for me," he said.

His time came yesterday when the Washington Redskins gave him a multi-year contract to replace Joe Gibbs as head coach.

Now, he couldn't be happier that the Bears picked Dave Wannstedt to be their coach.

"I've always said I'd rather be lucky than good," Petitbon said. "I really think somebody was looking after me in that Chicago deal because right now you'd have a suicide on your hands [if he had gotten the Chicago job and then the Washington job opened.]"

Petitbon might someday wonder about his luck. It's never easy to replace a legend.

Sure, George Seifert was successful replacing Bill Walsh in San Francisco, but remember Phil Bengtson?

He's the answer to the trivia question: Who replaced Vince Lombardi as the head coach of the Packers?

But Petitbon is ready for the challenge of replacing Gibbs.

"It's not easy," he said. "No question about that. That's probably going to be very, very difficult. It's tough to follow Joe Gibbs. But with the organization that we have and the ownership we have, I think we'll have a chance."

Petitbon said he doesn't worry about the pressure to win in Washington.

"I'd much rather come to a team that goes to the playoffs than a team that just fired the coach," he said. "I'll take good athletes and take that added pressure any time. I think it's a very comfortable situation for me. I don't anticipate any problems whatsoever in having this team run smoothly."

Bobby Beathard, the former Redskins general manager now in the same position with the San Diego Chargers, called Petitbon, "maybe the top game-day coach I've ever seen. The bigger the game, the cooler Richie is. He's great on game day calling defenses.

"Another good thing, he will delegate and let each coach do his job," Beathard said. "He will be good for the organization. It was an excellent decision."

Phoenix Cardinals coach Joe Bugel also knows Petitbon well; Bugel was an assistant with the Redskins for nine years before taking the Cardinals' job.

"Richie Petitbon is an outstanding person, an outstanding football coach," Bugel said. "If you're around Joe Gibbs, a lot of good will rub off. I think they'll continue to be a tremendous football team and organization . . . he'll do a masterful job."

Petitbon said not much is going to change. He'll keep the same staff, run the defense and name an assistant to run the offense. Rod Dowhower, the Redskins' quarterback coach and former coach of the Indianapolis Colts, is likely to get the job.

"You're going to see the same Redskins you have seen for the last 12 years," Petitbon said. "I don't think we're going to change the uniform colors."

But one thing will change: the style of the coach. Gibbs prided himself on never saying anything controversial, but Petitbon takes a more straightforward approach.

"You've just got to be yourself," he said. "I'm a very honest person, a very blunt person. I just try to tell it like it is and I think players understand it. Sometimes, it's not what they want to hear, but as long as you're consistent, I don't think you really have any problems.

"If you ask me a question, I'm going to answer it. Sometimes, you might not like it, but at least you get what I think to be the straight scoop and the truth."

He gave some examples yesterday. When Gibbs was asked all last season how quarterback Mark Rypien was playing, he'd give a long, involved answer that usually included all the team's injury woes.

Petitbon simply said, "Rypien didn't have a good year."

When Petitbon talked about how the Redskins have one of the finest organizations in the league, he added, "So many teams in the league have absolutely no chance to win because of their ownership."

Asked if he was the type who would go for it on fourth-and-one, Petitbon said, "I'm a gambler."

Cornerback Martin Mayhew said of the differences between Gibbs and Petitbon: "You're talking about two different personalities. Richie is much more emotional."

A native of New Orleans, Petitbon, who played quarterback at Tulane and virtually invented the strong safety position with the Bears while making four Pro Bowls, has spent 33 years in the NFL as a player and a coach.

He finished his playing career with the Rams and the Redskins before starting his coaching career as an assistant with the Houston Oilers in 1974. He joined Jack Pardee's staff with the Redskins in 1978 and was retained when Gibbs was hired.

Petitbon is married and has three grown children, including Richie, 27, who played football at Maryland.

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