By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Two days after the Washington Redskins' season ended, Joe Gibbs, the team president and coach, was noncommittal when asked about his desire to remain in those capacities with the team, a departure from remarks he has made after the end of his last four seasons here. At 67, he is entering the last year of the five-year, $25 million deal he signed with the team in 2004 and said he would begin discussions with owner Daniel Snyder about his future last night, with that process taking a few days to perhaps a week.
Gibbs, who led the team to the playoffs after the death of safety Sean Taylor but has just a 30-34 record, has previously stated that he "intends" to fulfill his contract, but would not echo that sentiment at his season-ending news conference yesterday at Redskins Park.
He did, however, speak at length about the future of the franchise and his desire to begin re-signing the club's free agents as soon as possible. Gibbs also left open the idea of a quarterback competition between Jason Campbell and Todd Collins -- comments that sent shock waves among many veterans who believe that decision could stunt Campbell's development -- and said that he definitely wants Collins, a potential free agent, back.
Several members of the organization -- players and staff -- expressed surprise at Gibbs's remarks, but all reiterated that they would be shocked if he left. "I would be totally, completely stunned," one staff member said. People who were around Gibbs at Redskins Park yesterday said he seemed jovial and upbeat and that he had yet to give the front office or staff any indication that he was considering leaving. Numerous league sources who have negotiated coaching contracts, including several familiar with Gibbs, believe the tone of Gibbs's remarks yesterday indicated a process they expected to result in a new contract.
Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls in his first stint but has not won more than 10 games in his second, said that he had been able to meet with Snyder only briefly as of last night, having returned to his home in North Carolina to confer with his family about his future after the loss Saturday in Seattle. Gibbs was very involved in discussions about impending free agency and various personnel issues (saying the team will be "selective" in free agency).
Like Gibbs, most of the coaching staff is signed only through 2008 -- with a few exceptions -- and protocol also would dictate new deals for most of them, which would also be hashed out with Snyder (who gave the staff three-year extensions after the 2005 season). Several sources who spoke with Snyder late in the season said the owner always spoke glowingly of Gibbs and believed he wanted to sign him to an extension.
"We have a lot going on here, as everybody knows, contractually with coaches and everything else," Gibbs said. "We've had very little time to do that, mainly because I snuck off yesterday afternoon and went home. . . . At year's end we [Snyder and Gibbs] sit and talk and go through things. We're doing that. We will be doing that starting pretty much this evening and going forward.
"Everybody's situation will be taken into context here, including mine, and my future here and all of that. We had very little time to get started on that, so we will start on it hot and heavy tonight and we will continue. Whenever there is something we think we can give [the media], we will let you know."
When asked if he could envision remaining as team president and not coach, Gibbs said, "I don't have anything else to add." When asked about his comfort level in having to coach as a lame duck, Gibbs played down its significance. "Me and Dan, we always see eye to eye on things like that. . . . There's a lot else than that wrapped up in it," Gibbs said. Several NFL executives pointed out that it's common for coaches to take a step back after such a tumultuous season, but expected Gibbs to be back.
"Joe's a negotiator now, don't forget about that," said one league source with ties to Gibbs. "Joe's never been a lame-duck coach before, and he's got a lot of assistants there who he would want to get taken care of, too. They just got back from Seattle and they haven't had a chance to go over all of that and make decisions on the scouts and staff. And a lot has changed since Joe signed his deal. [Seattle Coach] Mike Holmgren makes $7 million [a year] now. He wasn't making that when Joe signed his deal."
Gibbs said he hopes to retain his entire staff, though he expects other teams to request to interview some assistants for vacant positions shortly. "Everybody knows how I feel about them and how Dan feels, too," Gibbs said. Some league sources believe that the club's mundane output under Al Saunders, associate head coach-offense, the past two years will be discussed, though the increased production under Collins -- Saunders's handpicked passer -- and Gibbs's effusive praise of Collins are in Saunders's favor.
Gibbs also lauded the work of the football operations staff and scouts, some of whose contracts will be up as well. That figures to be another topic of discussion between the coach and owner.
Negotiations with Collins could begin shortly as well. Collins, 36, led the team to four straight wins to reach the playoffs, but Campbell had been progressing before his injury. Last week Campbell said that Saunders told him he would remain the starter and that "this is my team," but Gibbs stopped well short of that yesterday. "What Jason knows is with everything we invested in him, he's got a great future with the Redskins," Gibbs said. "If it's competing with someone, I don't think he worries about it."
Several players were surprised by those comments, with some suggesting that taking snaps from Campbell and giving them to Collins would demoralize Campbell, a first-round draft pick in 2005. "I can't believe he wouldn't commit to Jason," one veteran said. "Is he trying to kill his confidence? If I was Jason's agent, I'd be thinking about asking for a trade."
Messages left with Campbell and his agent, Joel Segal, were not returned.