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For Gibbs, Luster Is Off the Legend

Dismal Season Fuels the Naysayers

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 2, 2005; Page E01

After Coy Gibbs expressed a desire to switch professions from racecar driving to football coaching in late 2003 , the aspiration was an impetus for his father to return to the NFL. Before making his decision, Joe Gibbs held several deep discussions with his wife, Pat, and sons Coy and J.D. One issue was whether Gibbs, who had diabetes diagnosed shortly after retiring in 1993, could maintain his health during the grueling NFL schedule.

But the drawback cited the most was the risk of besmirching a legacy Gibbs had built by winning three Super Bowls for the Washington Redskins.

"There's a lot of criticism, a lot of second-guessing," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "The only way you change that is winning football games. I'm motivated to try to do that. Can I do that? We'll find out." (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

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Pat was the first person to broach the subject, and Coy concurred that his father should weigh the matter thoroughly before leaving a successful NASCAR racing team for J.D. to run.

Although Gibbs acknowledged that his second stint as head coach of the Redskins didn't guarantee additional glory, the Hall of Fame coach dismissed that as a reason to stay away.

Now, with one game left against the Minnesota Vikings at FedEx Field today, Gibbs, whose son, Coy, 31, is one of his offensive assistants, is ensured of his worst season as an NFL coach. The aura surrounding Gibbs when he returned last January has dissipated during a 5-10 season. Although Gibbs, 64, appears to have stayed in good health, the downside imagined by his family has unfolded -- at least in his first season back in Washington.

Gibbs acknowledged that during a few private moments this season, he briefly questioned his decision to return. "Sometimes you do that if things aren't going well," Gibbs said in an interview last Wednesday. "Obviously, I have normal feelings like everybody else."

But Gibbs, who has stated repeatedly that he has no plans to step down as coach, said he is convinced he made the right choice. "If I felt like I was supposed to be in coaching and I said, 'Well, I'm afraid because I might hurt my reputation,' then for me I'm going to be sitting around for the next 20 years, 10 years or however longer I live, saying, 'I was a gutless wonder,' " said Gibbs, who conspicuously hasn't worn his Super Bowl rings this season.

"Is there a big downside to this? Yeah. Now, there's a lot of criticism, a lot of second-guessing. The only way you change that is winning football games. I'm motivated to try to do that. Can I do that? We'll find out."

Gibbs, who is also team president, has shown an eagerness to address the team's problems this offseason. Last week, Gibbs spent many late-night hours with assistants, forming a list of core players to be retained for the 2005 season and identifying areas on the club that need improvement. Over four days starting Tuesday, Gibbs plans to oversee a more thorough analysis of the team, including his offensive schemes, which have drawn criticism for being outdated, before the coach provides a blueprint to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, the vice president of football operations.

Gibbs views the 2004 season as merely a speed bump en route to what he hopes will be the franchise's -- and his -- fourth Super Bowl title. The parity-heavy NFL is known for teams catapulting from worst to first from one season to the next. Nonetheless, Gibbs, who signed an NFL-record five-year, $28.5 million contract last January, is aware that the euphoria spurred by his return 11 months ago has turned to sharp criticism amid the mounting losses.

On Monday, on Gibbs's weekly radio show on WTEM-980, the first caller accused the Redskins of a lackluster performance during the 13-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium the previous afternoon. The person, who identified himself as John, alluded to losses in both games against Washington's arch rival this season while harshly assessing Gibbs's first year back. "I hesitate to talk to you in these terms," the caller said to Gibbs, "but we have not made progress this year."

"I hear your point," Gibbs replied. "I would disagree from a standpoint of [being] outplayed or outhustled."

Such an exchange seemed improbable as recently as training camp, when newspapers, sports radio and television hailed Gibbs as a savior. Now headlines about the Redskins coach are more likely to have variations of "Ordinary Joe."

Signs of disenchantment were detectable by the middle of the season, when spectators at FedEx Field loudly booed Mark Brunell -- and indirectly the head coach who handpicked the 34-year-old quarterback as his first major player personnel move during the offseason and gave him an $8.6 million bonus.

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