Gibbs officially returns for Round 2 with 'Skins

Legendary coach turns back clock, begins again

January 09, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. -- It was more class reunion than master blueprint, more pep rally than news conference.

The Washington Redskins gave a group hug around Joe Gibbs yesterday and called it a new era. Or maybe a throwback era.

Gibbs, officially returning as coach after 11 years, made the Redskins' family feel warm and fuzzy on his first day back. He was typically humble, unusually nervous and delightfully corny.

"I told Pat [his wife] there is no net," Gibbs said during a rambling discourse before a multitude of media, two dozen ex-players and a handful of current Redskins. "We're going to pray a lot. There's nothing that's going to catch us [if we fall].

"That may be the biggest thrill, the chance to do something super hard."

He was speaking about coming back to the NFL after his extended absence. But he just as well could have been addressing the tortured plight of the Redskins, coming off the 12-20 regime of Steve Spurrier and locked in a spiral that began with Gibbs' retirement after the 1992 season.

Gibbs, 63, turned back the clock 20 years yesterday, re-introducing Joe Bugel, Don Breaux and Jack Burns as new -- and old -- staff members. Also on this still-developing staff is his son, Coy, and deposed Buffalo Bills coach Gregg Williams, who will be defensive coordinator.

Beyond that, there was precious little insight into how, why or exactly when this all came about.

Standing at a podium behind the three Super Bowl trophies he delivered to the franchise in his first term, Gibbs said he had two meetings with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. He said it wasn't until the final two minutes of a nine-hour second session that they discussed salary terms, believed to be in excess of $28 million over five years.

Gibbs, perhaps the most beloved figure in Washington sports history, tried not to lean on past successes.

"I didn't wear my Super Bowl ring," he said. "That's the way I look at it. This is all new; we're trying to go forward. From this point on, the past doesn't buy us much other than relationships."

Nevertheless, the past was all around him. Among his ex-players in attendance were Art Monk, Mark Moseley, Darrell Green, Gary Clark, Don Warren and Joe Jacoby.

Jacoby was asked if he had any doubt Gibbs could bring the Redskins back to prominence.

"Not in my mind," he said. "Look at what he did from '81 to '92. He won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. The thing people don't talk about, though, is that he did it in two strike years and he did it with different running backs."

The NFL in which Gibbs won 140 games over 12 seasons is long gone, replaced by free agent movement, salary cap pitfalls, exorbitant contracts and unbridled egos. At the very least, it will be a test of his ability to adjust to the new times.

"It's going to be a little different animal for him to grasp," said Ron Wolf, former general manager for the Green Bay Packers. "As smart as he is, that won't be a problem. ... He's always been able to adjust when things appeared to be going haywire."

Gibbs could draw his inspiration from Dick Vermeil, who returned to the NFL after a 14-year absence in 1997 and took the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl championship three years later. Or Bill Parcells, who ended a three-year sabbatical this season to take the Dallas Cowboys into the playoffs.

But he doesn't. In fact, Gibbs said he didn't give much thought to Vermeil or Parcells in making his decision. Rather it was a combination of factors, he said, including the ability to turn over his NASCAR team to J.D. Gibbs, his son.

Asked if he missed the competition of being on the sidelines again, Gibbs said, "I had competition in motor sports."

What Gibbs will find in the NFL these days is a new breed of player. In the 1980s, he had the Fun Bunch, a group of receivers who celebrated in the end zone after touchdown catches. What the NFL has now is Joe Horn, the New Orleans Saints receiver who pulled a cell phone out of goal-post padding after a touchdown.

"My players can celebrate after a touchdown," Gibbs said. "That [Horn's incident] is something that went too far. You have to use common sense."

Still, the contrast demonstrates the change in player attitudes over two decades. That's something Gibbs will have to explore for himself.

"It's something I want to find out. Hopefully, players and people are the same [as before]," he said. "But I've got a lot to learn."

Gibbs dismissed speculation that he held negotiations with the Atlanta Falcons about their vacancy after Dan Reeves was fired. He did meet with owner Arthur Blank and general manager Rich McKay, but only to ask about the league, he said.

"When this job came open, [other openings] didn't matter to me," Gibbs said. "I couldn't coach anywhere else."

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