The First Day of the Rest of His Life

Looking back at Joe Gibbs's two stints as coach of the Washington Redskins, from 1981 to 1992 and 2004 to 2007.
By Mike Wise
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Joe Gibbs might have optimistically believed his second go- round as the Redskins coach would be less engrossing, what with all those assistants and all the authority he could delegate. But between film, meetings, practice, games and more film, he was an ambassador for an organization that sorely needed one. More than before, if that's possible, the Redskins became his world.

So, however you feel about the man walking away for the second time, smile for him today. Feel good. Joe Gibbs didn't just finish his last day on the job, he began the first day of taking back his life, the one he gave up four years ago.

"How much sleep did you get last night?" I asked yesterday.

"Three hours," Gibbs said, snickering.

"The pull-out sofa in the office again?"


An hour before, at a standing-room-only news conference, he spoke of the pact he had made with his wife, Pat, which prevented such workaholic behavior. That's about the only condition she placed on him four years ago, when her husband enraptured Washington by returning with fanfare befitting George Patton and, well, Gandhi.

"Don't sleep in your office like last time," Pat had told him. Simple, right?

"I lied," he said, as reporters burst into laughter. "She knew."

When Gibbs announced he was coming back, I couldn't understand the fervor surrounding his return. Daniel Snyder reminded me of the kid in high school who came back to campus to hang out in the cafeteria after he graduated; he just couldn't turn the page. The Redskins, I thought, didn't go on coaching searches; they went looking for Egyptian artifacts -- Tutankhamen in a headset.

It was only this season, sadly only after the death of Sean Taylor, that I began to grasp how timeless and indispensable Gibbs was in Washington, the kind of authentic soul he remains amid a league of posers who understand how to lead players but not people.

It wasn't about whether he had lost his laser focus; it never was. In the aftermath of a senseless tragedy, eras might not translate. But values do -- Gibbs's values, which this past month shepherded this organization through gallons of tears.

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