Gibbs not focused on past success

Heading into first camp in 12 years, 'Skins coach knows hard work needed

Pro Football

July 31, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - When the NFL last saw coach Joe Gibbs, he was striding off the Candlestick Park field in January 1993 after his Washington Redskins lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs. Two months later, the man who led the Redskins to three Super Bowl titles abruptly resigned, calling his decision "a family one."

Yesterday, Gibbs, 63, was back at Redskins Park, looking trim and eager and saying he felt more like the nervous rookie coach who lost his first five games in 1981 than the Hall of Famer who went on to compile a 124-60 regular-season record and seven playoff appearances before calling it quits after 12 seasons.

"It's more like a first-year learning experience certainly than what I remember back to," said Gibbs, addressing the media on the eve of the opening of training camp. "You're nervous about it - all the coaches you've recruited and moved here, their lives are at stake. So I worry about letting everybody down."

In his last training camp, Gibbs was coming off a Super Bowl season in which the Redskins lost two games.

But the team's fortunes quickly changed. The Redskins have been to the playoffs just once since Gibbs left.

Last year's team, under the departed Steve Spurrier, went 5-11.

Evoking the past, team officials yesterday placed their three gleaming Vince Lombardi trophies in front of the podium from which the coach was about to speak. Gibbs seemed to be having none of it.

"The Super Bowl trophies, that's great. That's the past. It's been a long time ago," the coach said.

Since he left, Gibbs said, offensive and defensive schemes have changed, but human nature has not. "People are mostly motivated by the same things, and I haven't seen that change in the 30 or 40 years I've been in sports." Gibbs assembled a successful NASCAR team after stepping down.

Gibbs said the story of Washington's season won't just be about him. "I've been embarrassed by all the attention and everything," Gibbs said. "But that's the good thing about sports: That quickly goes away if you don't do well. I'm going to get mine pretty quick, I would imagine."

Gibbs suggested the season will be largely about a team that, with an average age of 26, is among the youngest in the league - even with the addition of 33-year-old quarterback Mark Brunell, a Gibbs favorite.

"We didn't make a conscious effort to get older guys, but we did," Gibbs said. "We're trying to get the absolutely best players to fill holes."

The team's other key acquisition was running back Clinton Portis, who rushed for more than 3,000 yards in two seasons with the Denver Broncos.

Gibbs said coaches noticed Portis' toughness in films. "When he finishes runs, he's not looking for out of bounds, he's looking for every inch," the coach said. "I'll say this, too: He can catch."

Gibbs, who spoke for about 45 minutes, also said:

The quarterback competition between Brunell and incumbent Patrick Ramsey, 25, could come down to the last week of camp. "I don't care where you're drafted or how much money you make, it is the guys that deserve it," Gibbs said. He said the quarterback controversy "has probably helped both of them."

Redskins Park is being revamped to meet the coach's needs. Practice fields are being smoothed over with new sod to prevent injuries, and the team has installed a players' lounge with televisions and couches. Despite the upgrades, Gibbs said he is wary of having training camp in the Washington area, where there are more potential distractions so close to home. The team trained for years in Carlisle, Pa., and in Frostburg.

He hasn't talked to Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, who, like Gibbs, returned to the league after leaving football. "He's the enemy," Gibbs said with a laugh. But the coach praised the Cowboys as "very impressive on defense" and said of the improving NFC East, "It's not a pretty picture."

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