Joe Gibbs not only wants to stay as Redskins coach next season, he wants a contract extension from owner Daniel Snyder. But he can't come right out and say it because they haven't had time to sit down and actually negotiate it.
No sane coach, not even one who's already in the Hall of Fame, goes public -- saying, in effect, "Boss, how about another year, another $5 million or more" -- until the deal is actually done. You don't step on a billionaire's prerogatives, even if you've been his hero since he was a boy.
So, yesterday a cautious, noncommittal Gibbs paid Snyder a dozen compliments and then said that, as far as his contract status was concerned, they would try to "get things wrapped up as quick as we can. . . . We will be doing that starting this evening and going forward. . . . When we have something hashed out, we'll let you know."
Before the week is out, Gibbs and Snyder will probably share a big hug and announce that Gibbs will be in town longer than fans ever hoped. That, at least, is the most likely culmination for the machinations at Redskins Park at the moment.
But we can't be absolutely positive. Put the odds at 95 percent. My days as a Gibbsologist began when he arrived in town in '81. For thanklessness, it's a job akin to being a Kremlinologist in the Cold War days. You have to parse a bushel of cliches for an ounce of insight. However, this current puzzle is probably pretty simple.
Everybody associated with the Redskins is delighted and proud at the way the season was salvaged in the last month. For next season, everybody wants to keep everything as close as possible to the way it is right now. Bring back as many players as is financially feasible, especially free agent quarterback Todd Collins. Perhaps add a key free agent from another team. But, having finally discovered team chemistry, the Redskins don't want to tear it apart.
And, of course, bring back Gibbs, who held the franchise together when it might have spun away like a whirlygig after Sean Taylor's shooting death. It is the most important piece of the puzzle.
In recent weeks, it has become clear that Gibbs may not win any prizes for rulebook recitation. And, perhaps, he needs an assistant such as Al Saunders to bring his offensive system into the 21st century. But there is still no better leader of men in the NFL. When things go badly wrong, you want him in charge, setting the tone, bestowing his calm, radiating common sense and humility. Real leaders are rare. He is one. You don't analyze why he has the right stuff. You just say, "Joe, what do you want in that new contract?" And that's probably what Snyder will do.
But contracts in pro sports are almost always touchy affairs. If egos, misunderstandings and money are going to cause mischief, then such negotiations are the moment to bring out the worst in anyone. Gibbs is so aware that coach contracts are an NFL landmine that he has, for many years, been obsessed with defusing the issue before it even arose.
Two years ago, in frustration, Gibbs asked reporters how he should answer constant questions about whether he would remain for the full five years of his contract, through the '08 season. Gibbs realized that most of the media was as sick of asking him the question as he was of answering it in ways that might be misinterpreted and give life to rumors.
"I intend to fulfill my contract," were the magic words. Gibbs said thanks. And meant it. First, it's true. Who doesn't intend to fulfill a legal contract, especially for $5 million a year? Also, you still have complete freedom. You can say, "I intended to fulfill my contract but now I changed my mind." Then you tell the world, "I retire." Or "I want a contract extension."
So, everybody lived happily ever after -- until yesterday.