'I'm Not Turnin' Loose of It Until We Get It Right'
The large wall behind Joe Gibbs's desk at Redskins Park is covered with pictures of his seven grandchildren. The thought of them lights up his face. "If I died tomorrow, they should put on my tombstone, 'He had a ball,' " Gibbs said yesterday. "I've crowded everything into life that I can get." Then his face darkens. "I just don't want this for everybody else."
"This" is the losing, the embarrassment of a 4-8 record for a franchise that has broken all records for providing a coach with everything money can buy so that he can return his team to glory. Despite all the expensive free agents signed and assistant coaches hired to surround him on his return, and after a lifetime of success in the NFL and NASCAR, Gibbs is failing this season.
"It kind of tears me apart," Gibbs said in an interview. "In life I've had other times like this. You ask yourself: 'How did I get here? How do I get back? And how do I learn from this?' You have to face where you are. Don't be blind to the truth. Otherwise, you can't fix it."
The Redskins' coach is a walking contradiction, a contented man at peace in many ways, yet also deeply frustrated and ready to do anything, even discuss hiring a general manager, if it will get his Redskins out of the ditch.
"Sometimes I think, 'I want out of the mess.' That's how people are. We want to run from the mess," said Gibbs, whose team might be voted the biggest mess in the NFL this season. "But I'll fight, change, whatever it takes. This is my problem. It's my responsibility and I feel bad. [Owner] Dan [Snyder] has done everything he can. And I haven't [done the job] this year. But I'm not turnin' loose of it until we get it right. Sooner or later, I'm gonna get it."
What if, after problems in player personnel since his return, the Redskins decide that a traditional general manager -- such as Bobby Beathard or Charley Casserly in the old days -- is needed? "I have no problems with any of that. I changed a lot last year," said Gibbs, who in essence fired himself after last season as the Redskins' play-caller and hired Al Saunders as associate head coach, handing over a task for which Gibbs was famous. "I'm not afraid of new ideas."
Or, in this case, the very old idea that personnel should be run by a career-long expert in that area, rather than the current odd triumvirate of Gibbs, Vice President of Football Operations Vinny Cerrato and, to some degree, Snyder. Gibbs rules that room on aura alone. When he and Beathard or Casserly went to the late Jack Kent Cooke for a tiebreaking vote, Gibbs had no upper hand.
Perhaps no one in Washington is as mystified as Gibbs by the Redskins' collapse. Why? Because he has always believed that if he gets his type of players -- "true Redskins" -- who are smart, physically tough and willing to sacrifice for the team, then the rest will follow.
Believe it or not, Gibbs is absolutely convinced that he has that core of players already. Has he lost his ability to judge modern players, or is this year the aberration and last season's playoff run the proper measure?
"I think we've got the right people right now. This is what I do -- pick people. This is all I'm doing," Gibbs said, holding his hands wide, perhaps mocking his NFL CEO image. "It's what it's always been about -- in football and the race team."
Is it possible that he is getting the "character" issue wrong this time?
"I don't think I'm missing it. There will be exceptions. People will cross the line and I'll tell them, 'We can't do that,' " said Gibbs, who had two attitude-adjustment meetings this week with wide receiver Brandon Lloyd.