By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 19, 2008
Nothing prepared Joe Gibbs for the death of one of his football players. Nor did anything prepare him for the doctor's report confirming that one of his grandsons had leukemia.
But Sean Taylor's murder 10 months ago, and his grandson Taylor's ongoing fight with his illness, heightened the coach's appreciation of the fleeting nature of life, he says now, and played a role, in varying degrees, in his decision to resign as coach of the Washington Redskins four seasons into a five-year contract.
"Those things kind of show you how fragile and short life is," Gibbs said yesterday during a visit to Washington, where he volunteered at a charity that delivers meals to people living with HIV-AIDS and visited patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"I wind up saying things like, 'I'm going to take a vacation next July.' Hey, we're not guaranteed next July! For all of us, life is fragile. It goes by awful quick. God says in his word: It's like a mist, a puff of smoke. It's gone. So the focus for me, then, becomes on eternity."
It's doubtful any of Gibbs's former players knew he was in town. He quietly flew into Dulles International Airport, climbed in a black SUV and headed directly to Food & Friends in Northeast Washington. There, he donned an apron and, joined by his son J.D. and NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin, began packing grocery bags.
Gibbs's participation was meant to highlight the charitable work done by the organization and the support it gets from FedEx, the primary sponsor of one of Gibbs's race teams.
It has been eight months since Gibbs resigned a second time as Redskins coach. And the team's fortunes are never far from his thoughts.
Gibbs said he hadn't managed to watch either Redskins game in full this season because of other commitments but was thrilled that Jim Zorn had earned his first victory. The two met for two hours when the Redskins played the Carolina Panthers during the preseason, but Gibbs declined to elaborate.
"He's been in the league a ton and been a great player in the league," Gibbs said. "I don't think he's going to need much help."
Gibbs revealed that he has returned to coaching, as well, serving as an assistant coach on his grandson Jackson's team of 10-year-olds. Jackson plays quarterback and cornerback, and his Hall of Fame grandfather draws up the plays on a notepad during practice, careful to diagram in his best handwriting.
"I went out there the first day and said to these 10-year-olds, 'Get your split and take your stance!' They all went, 'Huh?' " Gibbs said with a laugh.
Along with his more hands-on role as a grandfather, Gibbs has shepherded all three of his Sprint Cup drivers into the sport's postseason.
He didn't dare dream that things could have gone this well when he wrestled with his decision to retire from the NFL. But he concluded that the timing was right.
"When you coach the Redskins, you're totally consumed. You don't have a minute," Gibbs said. "I didn't think it was right for me to do that again because it takes that kind of a commitment, and I couldn't be thinking about what's going on with the family and everything and do as good a job as I could have. Hopefully there were some things we put in place in those four years that will benefit the team as they go forward."