Eleven games into Joe Gibbs's return to the Washington Redskins' sideline, many around the NFL say they are surprised and perplexed by the team's poor performance and question whether the problem lies with the Redskins' system, players or coach.
More than a dozen past and present coaches and team executives, as well as several of Gibbs's former players, said this week that they believe that Gibbs can again be successful in the NFL. They added that while Gibbs still is adjusting to the changes in the NFL during his 11-year absence, the bigger long-term problem facing the Redskins is their front-office structure.
After eight losses in 11 games, Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs says, "We've got to find a way."
(Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
"To me, their big issue is player acquisition," said a longtime AFC personnel executive who is assigned to follow the Redskins, among other teams. "I've never been able to figure out who's in charge there."
The official added: "They have talent issues more than whether the game has passed Joe by. I don't think it has. It's not X's and O's. He didn't take over a very good team. It's obvious he picked the wrong quarterback [Mark Brunell] and stayed with him way too long, and that hurt [Patrick Ramsey's] development. I don't know at his age if [Gibbs] has the patience to build a team, but that's what has to happen there. And from the standpoint of continuity, it doesn't seem like they've settled on what they really want to do with the talent they have."
Gibbs, 64, reiterated yesterday that he is committed to turning around the team's fortunes, but he said he is open to a different way of doing his job.
"If I ever reached a feeling that I was holding things back, then I would fix it. My commitment is I think we're just getting started and we've got to find a way. I'm not afraid to change anything, that's the other thing. I'm not afraid of anything, I don't care," Gibbs said. "All I want to do is win. I'll change anything about me, what I'm doing, the coaching staff . . . I don't care. If I think as we go through it, if there's a way to help, I'll do it."
Under the Redskins' current system, major player decisions are made by Gibbs, who also holds the title of team president, in conjunction with team owner Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, the vice president of football operations. But unlike many teams, the Redskins do not have a formal general manager with overall responsibility for player personnel development.
During most of Gibbs's first tenure in Washington, he worked with general managers Bobby Beathard and Charley Casserly, who acquired many of the players who led the team to its three Super Bowl titles.
Gibbs dismissed the notion that the decision-making process is flawed, but said he is open to the idea of hiring a general manager.
"I kind of look at it as I have no problem with that. I've worked with GMs before who were really good. I don't know if it's as much the title and everything as it is the working relationship," Gibbs said. "Our working relationship here is very similar to what we had here before with Bobby responsible for the talent and I was responsible for saying, 'Okay, these are the guys that will stay.' There is no change in that really.
"I think what we do here with Vinny and all the coaches and everything heavily involved is we all kind of make all the personnel decisions together. Certainly I think when it came to the draft this year we went right along the list and this is what we all said, good or bad, this is the person we're going to take and if you look at the draft, I think we did some good stuff there.
"Free agency, I think that worked out extremely well and if you take a look at the numbers and what we did and who has played . . . I think we did some good stuff, but that remains to be seen."
Team spokesman Karl Swanson said that Snyder would not comment for this story, but added, "Joe is the president. He sets the direction of the team. If he's satisfied with the way things are working, then that's the way they'll stay."
One AFC defensive coordinator said a general manager could help Gibbs and the Redskins.