Joe Gibbs's Game

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

AFTER THE GAME, Joe Gibbs was always the same. He stood patiently at the microphone answering question after question and graciously accepting most of the blame for anything that had gone awry. He was like that in his first tour as head coach of the Washington Redskins, when they usually won, and in the second, when too often they didn't. The difference was that this time around, there really was reason for the coach to take a bit of the blame sometimes. That, surely, is what Mr. Gibbs felt, and it's probably one reason he announced yesterday that he's resigning as the team's head coach.

But there were other reasons, and they speak to why, win or lose, Washington has been lucky to have Joe Gibbs leading its football team -- perhaps the Washington area's most popular and unifying institution -- for the past four years. Mr. Gibbs is moving on, he has made clear, because at age 67 he wants to come to terms with other parts of his life -- indeed, with life itself. He is a family man in a job that makes little allowance for family. He is a religious man, but not in the showy way that characterizes so much of public life, in sports, politics and elsewhere. He has a grandson who has fought leukemia.

As we will be reminded over the next few weekends, pro football rules in America, and its reigning royalty is called Coach (no other honorific will do these days). If Coach wins, just about any kind of behavior is tolerated, on and off the field. If he loses, well, there's always another one waiting to take the job for however long he can hang on to it, using whatever means seem necessary.

Mr. Gibbs has never lost the air of being someone you can just call Joe. And he seems never to have lost his sense of proportion. After the senseless death of Sean Taylor, he talked to the players about what their friend had meant to all of them, not just as a fellow player but as a person. He brought a dispirited team together in a way that earned the admiration and respect not only of the Redskins but of everyone in the game. The first time he coached Washington's football team, Joe Gibbs brought home three Super Bowl trophies. In his second term, he may well have brought this community something far more important.

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