Coaches Coach. Get It?

Evidence of Joe Gibbs's Hall-of-Fame coaching appears to be lacking as he's relinquished much of that responsibility and focused more on personnel matters.
Evidence of Joe Gibbs's Hall-of-Fame coaching appears to be lacking as he's relinquished much of that responsibility and focused more on personnel matters. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Michael Wilbon
Thursday, December 7, 2006

When you look at some of the decisions being made by the Washington Redskins, you are led to wonder whether Joe Gibbs can ever fix all this, and, with all due respect to the Hall of Fame coach, how much of the dysfunction is his fault.

Any routine examination of the Redskins now reveals a team that constantly (and unsuccessfully) tries to remake itself, that repeatedly misevaluates personnel, that throws away high draft picks, that has too many coaches (and possibly the wrong ones).

They can spend whatever energy they want at Redskins Park trying to shoot the messenger, but the fact is the Redskins are no better off than the Arizona Cardinals or the Cleveland Browns, the NFL's perennial bottom feeders. No amount of money spent on veteran players and high-profile coaches has helped the Redskins do any better than 4-8.

Look no further than the Redskins' loss to Atlanta four days ago. Okay, neophyte quarterback Jason Campbell certainly didn't have a good day. He played like what he is essentially -- a rookie. But Campbell was nowhere near as incompetent as his coaches on Sunday. How, in good conscience, could Al Saunders or Gibbs (and whoever else might have called plays) allow a kid making his third NFL start to throw 38 passes? Coaches talk all the time about how they must put players in position to do well. How does asking a newborn quarterback to throw 38 times work to his advantage?

We heard all last week about how the Redskins were going to play more "Redskins football," which is their way of describing Gibbs's efficient and winning style of run-first football. And a 14-0 lead over a discouraged Falcons team battling its own issues was the perfect time to play it.

Turned out the Redskins had no interest in keeping their promise. Instead of rushing for 155 yards, Ladell Betts should have been given enough carries to rush for 300 yards. And if he grew tired, they should have given the ball to T.J. Duckett 20 times. A two-touchdown lead and a kid quarterback making his third start demanded it. But the Redskins went ahead with their absolutely nonsensical approach and lost.

After the game Gibbs said it was a mistake to get away from "Redskins football." And where exactly was Gibbs while this insurrection was occurring? Did he have laryngitis? Gibbs either had a hand in it happening or at the very least let it happen. And this leads to the bigger discussion, the view of the team beyond any one game.

The Saunders experiment should be about over now. Twelve games of disaster isn't enough? It's not that Al Saunders has forgotten how to coach in 10 months; he hasn't. He's put together brilliant offensive football teams for years. My bet is he'll be successful again.

But not here -- not with other chefs in a kitchen that is a mess. Probably somebody should demand that since Gibbs's bust sits in the Hall of Fame he ought to be running the offense, which includes calling the plays. Maybe it's difficult for Dan Snyder, since he idolized Gibbs as a kid, to order Gibbs back to doing what he did famously for all those great seasons. But somebody needs to. Once again, that somebody should be running the football operation, maximizing that side of the business the way Snyder has maximized the business side.

I've heard all the arguments from Redskins Park over the years as to why the club doesn't need a president of football operations or a general manager or Boss of Football -- whatever you want to call him. But the evidence has piled up so high over the last seven years it's become irrefutable.

Assistant coaches, no matter how glorified they are by title, don't need to be picking players. Coaching pro football is the most demanding, time-consuming, stressful job in sports. It's the equivalent of two full-time jobs. Scouting is a full-time job, too. Even good personnel people make mistakes, but not as many as the Redskins have made recently.

The defense, in three years, has let Antonio Pierce, Champ Bailey, Ryan Clark and Fred Smoot go. This is not balanced by the acquisition of Andre Carter (three sacks, one impact game) and Adam Archuleta, now a $10 million special teams player. You're not going to read any criticism of Archuleta here. He should have taken the money the Redskins offered. Right after the Redskins signed Archuleta, a scout told me: "Everybody in the league knows Archuleta has left it all on the field. He can't be an every-down player anymore. Why do you think St. Louis let him go? What are the Redskins thinking?"

Nowhere is the need for a general manager more evident than in the disastrous trade for Duckett. The Redskins gave up at least a third-round pick (the total cost of the deal won't be known until after the season) for an insurance policy against an injury to Clinton Portis and then did not play him even after Portis got injured. Or in situations perfectly suited to his talents.

And please, let's not take the easy way out and lay this at the feet of Vinny Cerrato, who isn't picking the primary players ultimately (though getting Kedric Golston in the sixth round was a nice find). Cerrato answers to Gibbs, period. And there's nothing in Gibbs's history, then or now, to suggest that he's a personnel ace. To flip Bill Parcells's phrase, Gibbs needs to cook the meal, but somebody else needs to shop for the groceries.

The Redskins have never been in greater need of having a football man run the football team, somebody with a long-term, big-picture view, not a coach's view. Every coach worth his whistle wants to trade all the draft picks the club has for a guy who can help him win this Sunday. The responsibility of an overseer is to plan for this Sunday and three years from Sunday, which often means telling the coach no. When Mike Holmgren's responsibilities were reduced and the Seahawks installed an overseer, Holmgren once again became a Super Bowl coach.

If the Redskins keep going in this direction, they'll turn the team over again, squander draft picks again, misevaluate other people's free agents again, and will be no better off than they were before Gibbs returned.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company