Redskins find replacing Gibbs isn't easy

January 02, 1994|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

Quarterback Cary Conklin, one of the many players who probably pulled off their Washington Redskins uniforms for the last time Friday, is grateful for the time he spent with Washington.

"I'm still fortunate I was able to spend three really good quality years with one of the best coaches in the whole history of the league. I learned a lot from him. I just thank Joe [Gibbs] for bringing me up here," Conklin said after the team's 14-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

The loss left the Redskins with their worst record in 30 years -- 4-12 -- and as they ponder the future, they know they learned one thing during this dismal season.

They found out just how fortunate all were to have Gibbs as a coach for a dozen years.

They know that even though they'll do a lot of player shuffling in the off-season, their toughest task will be to overcome the loss of Gibbs.

Friday's loss to the Vikings was just one more example of how Gibbs' departure affected this team.

The Vikings and the Redskins played virtually the same game last season in Minnesota. The Redskins' offensive line was beat up, and the Vikings put a fierce pass rush on Mark Rypien, knocked him down repeatedly and held the offense without a touchdown.

Yet the Redskins still managed to pull out a 15-13 victory on five Chip Lohmiller field goals.

This time they lost, 14-9, at least partially because Lohmiller missed two of his five field-goal attempts and coach Richie Petitbon didn't even attempt to have him try another long one because Lohmiller has been so shaky this year.

Lohmiller's biggest problem this season was that he lost his holder when quarterback Jeff Rutledge was released at the end of last season.

Petitbon didn't put much emphasis on finding a new one. He said quarterbacks can hold, and gave Rypien the duty. When Rypien got hurt in the second game, the Redskins used safety Pat Eilers, who, like Rypien, had never held in the pros. When Eilers got hurt, Rypien came back and took the blame for his poor holds. The Redskins also changed snappers when Mike Raab replaced Guy Bingham.

With his attention to detail, Gibbs would have treated fixing the kicking game as a priority in training camp and would have wanted to get an experienced holder. He used to wax eloquently on the importance of such things as snapping and holding.

All that doesn't mean firing Petitbon is going to solve the Redskins' problems because they're not going to get Gibbs -- or another Gibbs -- to replace him. As Conklin said, Gibbs has established himself as one of the best ever.

Even Gibbs couldn't turn this thing around right away. The Redskins are probably a .500 team in talent even when they're healthy.

Besides his knack of getting the best out of his players -- he's the only coach to win three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks -- Gibbs brought another skill to the table. He had the knack for dealing with owner Jack Kent Cooke.

Gibbs could talk Cooke into doing the things he wanted to get done, and Gibbs rarely took no for an answer. Gibbs would just come back to Cooke with another reason for making a move. It took a long time, but in 1988, Gibbs talked Cooke into signing Chicago Bears free-agent linebacker Wilber Marshall for $6 million -- a sum that made him the highest-paid defensive player in the league at the time.

Once Gibbs left, Cooke not only wouldn't pay Marshall or wide receiver Gary Clark, but the Redskins dropped out of the bidding for Reggie White.

Granted, the salary cap was a factor, but it won't go into effect until 1994. Gibbs would have argued he wanted to win in 1993 and worry about 1994 next year.

Gibbs might not have fought hard to keep Marshall, who wasn't the easiest player to deal with. But he would have tried to talk Cooke into keeping Clark and getting White.

Like many owners, Cooke likes to make personnel suggestions, which can sap a coach's authority.

When Cooke made suggestions to Gibbs, Gibbs would politely say the idea had merit and then launch into a 15-minute explanation of why another route might be better. Gibbs would wear Cooke down and do what he wanted to do in the first place. Since Gibbs won, Cooke gave him a lot of leeway.

That's changed now. The evidence is that Petitbon salutes when Cooke makes a suggestion. A week ago, quarterback Mark Rypien went public with the charge that decisions are being made "on top" -- presumably by Cooke. Denials were quickly issued by both Petitbon and general manager Charley Casserly.

But there was some anecdotal evidence presented by Maureen Dowd in a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine article about what it's like to watch a game from Cooke's box.

Dowd admitted she's not a football fan and lampooned the whole experience (she may not be invited back soon) as she referred to the owner as the "vinegary little Canadian-born Cooke" and said he was "surrounded by sycophants."

She said that at one point during the game, Cooke barked, "Why don't they put in Reggie Brooks?"

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