ASHBURN, Va. -- Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, who has a 3-year-old grandson with leukemia, decided his family needed him more than the Washington Redskins did and unexpectedly retired yesterday.
"My family situation being what it is right now, I told him I just did not feel I could make the kind of commitment that I needed to make going forward this year," Gibbs said of a conversation with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder during a late-night meeting Monday. "It's time for me to have a chance to be with them."
Gibbs, 67, said the decision to resign was made during and after he flew to his North Carolina home after the team's 35-14 playoff loss on Saturday to the Seattle Seahawks.
He said he played Scrabble with his grandchildren, reflected on his situation and decided his family needed him around. Snyder tried to persuade Gibbs to stay after the meeting that ended early yesterday morning.
Said Snyder: "I tried very, very hard to convince Joe not to retire. He'll always be our coach, my coach."
Gibbs, with a year left on his contract, made two playoff appearances in his second run with the team but couldn't meet the lofty standards - three Super Bowl titles - set during his first tenure.
His departure adds a fourth NFL team - the Ravens, Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins are the others - to the list of those seeking a head coach. Many Redskins players believe an inside hire such as assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams would stabilize the team, allowing it to retain the momentum gained during a four-game winning streak that ended the regular season.
Gibbs and Snyder indicated during a news conference that the Redskins don't need an overhaul.
"I like where we are. We're in good shape," Snyder said. But neither Snyder nor Gibbs would endorse an inside hire, and Redskins officials might be tempted to look seriously at former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, among other outsiders.
Asked whether Cowher might be a candidate, a Redskins official said it was "too soon to know." The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the hiring process is just underway, said candidates will soon be discussed and an interview list drawn up. Snyder said he hadn't spoken with Cowher about the job.
Gibbs, who said the shooting death of safety Sean Taylor and a series of close losses made this his toughest season, appeared relaxed - almost relieved - at a news conference held with Snyder in the burgundy-and-gold auditorium at Redskins Park.
He spoke at a lectern behind a pedestal on which sat three gleaming Vince Lombardi trophies - one for each Super Bowl he won with the team during his first tenure from 1981 through 1992.
During his just-ended run with the Redskins, Gibbs was 31-36 - including three playoff games..
Gibbs laughed when he said he had spent 20 percent of his life with the Redskins. Next year would have been the fifth and final year of his contract, and Gibbs joked that Snyder had tried to sign him to such a long extension that the deal would have had to include pallbearers to carry him away.
Gibbs, who also had been the team's president, said he would remain as a consultant but wouldn't maintain an office at Redskins Park because he wouldn't want to interfere. Snyder said he had no intention of changing the system in which personnel decisions are made by the coach and vice president Vinny Cerrato with input from Snyder. The team has no general manager.
Snyder said he had no timetable for replacing Gibbs. Many players immediately expressed support for Williams, who came to the Redskins with Gibbs in 2004 and has head coaching experience with the Buffalo Bills.
"Hey, Gregg's my guy," said defensive end Phillip Daniels, who said he and other players were stunned by Gibbs' departure. "He [Williams] is a great leader. It's not just me saying it. It's all of us saying it."
Daniels said an inside hire such as Williams - or associate head coach-offense Al Saunders - would make for a smooth transition but "we [the players] understand there's a process they've got to go through."
The owner of a successful NASCAR team, Gibbs rejoined the Redskins in 2004, eliciting giddiness from fans who recalled his three Super Bowl victories and 124-60 regular-season record over 12 seasons. Since then, his grandson, Taylor, became ill. "My family situation dramatically changed," Gibbs said.
After the news conference, Gibbs was met outside the Redskins Park doors by several dozen cheering fans. "Stay!" one fan yelled.