After QB shuffle, Petitbon could be next

December 13, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

When a pro football team is struggling, two popular remedies -- even if they're not the right ones -- are to change the quarterback or the coach.

The Washington Redskins, staggering through what appears to be their worst season in 30 years, have pretty much exhausted the remedy of changing quarterbacks.

Since Mark Rypien was injured in the second game of the season, coach Richie Petitbon has gone from Cary Conklin to Rich Gannon, back to Rypien, back to Conklin for a series, back to Rypien, back to Gannon, and in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 3-0 loss to the New York Jets, he went back to Rypien for the third time.

All Petitbon has proved is that changing quarterbacks won't solve the team's problems.

Petitbon deferred a decision after the game on which quarterback will start against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, although it probably doesn't make much difference.

If the Redskins lose their last three games, they'll finish 3-13, for their worst record since 1963, when they were 3-11 in the days of the 14-game schedule.

Which means there's going to be a lot of discussion in the coming weeks about the second option -- changing the coach.

Petitbon is in his first season since replacing Joe Gibbs, and the team has been riddled with injuries, but the heat is being turned up on him.

During the NBC telecast Saturday, Petitbon's former Chicago Bears teammate, Mike Ditka, said the team didn't appear to have a clue about what it was doing. Petitbon grimaced when that comment was relayed to him after the game.

The man who'll make the decision on Petitbon, owner Jack Kent

Cooke, hasn't given a hint which way he's leaning, and he's a bit distracted these days.

Not only is he trying to complete a deal to build a stadium in Laurel over the opposition of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, but he's also publicly disagreeing with Gibbs.

They provided the entertainment Saturday on the network pre-game shows. Gibbs, working as an NBC broadcaster this year, said on that network's show that he was surprised Cooke won't let him talk to the expansion Carolina Panthers. He said he's no longer under obligation to the Redskins and the matter is in the hands of his attorneys.

In a reply on CBS, Cooke said Gibbs is still under contract to the Redskins and was "surprised that my surrogate son is acting the way he is." He said Gibbs should have come to him instead of speaking publicly. Cooke also made a couple of contradictory statements. He said he was keeping checks in his desk drawer "awaiting Joe's return" and added he hadn't talked to Gibbs since he resigned March 5.

In the process, it looks as if Cooke has ended any chance of getting Gibbs back. Even if Gibbs decides to return to the sidelines in 1995 -- he's ruled out a 1994 return -- it would seem unlikely he'd return to the Redskins after getting in a public flap with Cooke.

In any case, Petitbon's future could be tied to whether Cooke thinks he can get Gibbs back. If he does, Cooke could give Petitbon one more year and then hope he can get Gibbs to return in 1995.

There's also the question of whether Petitbon can turn things around next year and whether he'd bring back his offensive coordinator, Rod Dowhower. Under Dowhower's direction, the offense hasn't clicked since the opening victory against the Dallas Cowboys.

The majority of the players seems to back Petitbon. The players also like Petitbon's low-key approach.

"Richie's taken a great approach," defensive lineman Jason Buck said. "He stood up and said he's not going to yell and scream and abuse everybody. He's going to stay calm and coach like he always has."

Cornerback Darrell Green said: "Everybody here would be very sensitive to say Petitbon deserves to stay here. I don't think he has lost one game. I think the players on the field have lost every game. Next year, we can only hope for the best that things will prevail the way I think they will."

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