Out after 1 year, coach refuses to complain Redskins go hurry-up attack, ousting Petitbon

January 05, 1994|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

Big guys don't cry.

Richie Petitbon, a tough survivor of the pro football wars for more than three decades, has lived by that motto.

That's why it wasn't surprising that when he was fired as head coach of the Washington Redskins by owner Jack Kent Cooke yesterday, one day less than 10 months since he replaced Joe Gibbs, he had no complaints.

Petitbon, who's noted for his stoic demeanor, said: "Believe me, I have no complaints. I have no complaints about anything."

Cooke, not noted for his patience, fired him after a 4-12 season that was the team's worst in 30 years and moved quickly to pursue Norv Turner, the Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator.

Cooke's son, John Kent Cooke, called the Cowboys shortly after Petitbon was fired and received permission to talk to Turner, who's likely to fly to Washington this weekend.

The new coach will determine the fate of the assistant coaches, who all have one year remaining on their contracts.

There doesn't seem to be any chance that Gibbs, who was in Florida yesterday and did not return a call, will return to the team.

He's said he doesn't want to coach in 1994 when his son, Coy, will play his senior season at Stanford. A source close to Gibbs said yesterday he's still not sure he even wants to return to coaching in 1995.

When the Carolina Panthers recently asked to talk to Gibbs, Cooke denied permission and said he was "awaiting Gibbs' return," but he seems to have accepted the fact Gibbs isn't returning.

Although general manager Charley Casserly said the Redskins coaching position is a "premier job," the new coach won't have an easy task. The Redskins are an aging team hurt by free agency and the looming salary cap, but Cooke obviously still expects to winthe same way Gibbs did in his 12 years when he took the team to four Super Bowls and won three of them.

Petitbon was a victim of those high expectations and the rash of injuries that devastated the team, but he would only concede that he was dealt "a bad hand."

"Personally, I would have liked more time, but that's not my call and that's the way it is," he said.

The fact that Petitbon held a news conference after being fired was another sign that he's a stand-up guy. He not only held one -- many coaches don't when they're fired -- but he praised Cooke.

"I have absolutely no animosity whatever toward Mr. Cooke. I think he's been fantastic and everything. He's really a top-flight guy, a No. 1 owner. Believe me, he does everything it takes or what he thinks it takes to win," he said.

Cooke did not hold a news conference, but said as he left Redskin Park, "This is one of the unhappiest days of my life and I mean that sincerely. I had a special rapport with Richie."

Cooke declined to give any reasons for the firing. "That's between Richie and me," Cooke said.

But a source at CBS-TV said that in an interview with the network last week, Cooke referred to the Peter Principle -- a reference to an employee who rises to the level of his incompetence.

For some reason, a CBS producer left that part of the interview on the cutting room floor, but Cooke apparently thought Petitbon was a good assistant coach who didn't fit the mold of a head coach.

Cooke apparently had made up his mind to fire Petitbon even before he arrived at Redskin Park. He started meeting with Petitbon at 11:10 a.m. and by 12:30 p.m., the team handed out a release announcing Petitbon's departure.

"It was a done deal," Petitbon said.

Petitbon, 55, has spent 34 years in the NFL as a player, assistant coach and head coach since joining the Chicago Bears in 1959 and this was the first time he was fired.

"I think maybe when I was paper boy, I got fired, [but] that's been a long time ago," he said.

He added: "I don't think anybody likes to get fired. You'd have to be some kind of a nut [to like it]."

But Petitbon accepted the possibility as part of the job.

"I think when you get into this business, I think as a player you have to be prepared to be cut. I think as a coach you have to be prepared to be fired. I think that's the nature of the business. It's not an easy business," he said.

It's a business he still loves, though. "Well, let me say this, it's better than having a job. I feel I've never had a job in my life. Be that as it may, I'm happy with the profession I've chosen. It's been good to me. I have no regrets," he said.

Although Petitbon has one year left on his contract, he'll have no trouble finding a job as a defensive coordinator. He wouldn't answer questions about his future.

Petitbon was hired on March 5 when Gibbs quit because of health and family reasons. He immediately found things going wrong.

The team misjudged how salaries would rise with free agency and lost such standouts as Wilber Marshall, Gary Clark, Martin Mayhew, Fred Stokes and Jumpy Geathers. They also dropped out of the bidding for Reggie White. And the free agents they did sign, including Carl Banks, Tim McGee, Al Noga and Rick Graf, had little or no impact.

The injuries started quickly in training camp when Jim Lachey was lost for the season. They opened the season on a high note with a victory over Dallas. But when quarterback Mark Rypien went down in the second game with a knee injury, the Redskins never recovered.

Until the end, Petitbon remained popular with the players, who were sorry to see him go.

As cornerback Darrell Green said: "I just don't think that in one season with the adversity that came about, he had a fair shot at it."

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