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Coach 'Joe' Makes Final Call His Best

By Tony Kornheiser
Washington Post Columnist
March 8, 1993

I'm tired too.

We're all tired. (Look at Bill Clinton. He's in the job six weeks, and he's got raccoon eyes.)

I don't just have migraine equivalence. I've got the whole migraine.

Believe me, when I'm 52 they're gonna have to scrape me off the floor.

This is what happens when you've been working for 20, 25, 30 years, staying late, trying to build a career, taking home a trophy now and again, but always wondering if there's a balance in your life, if you haven't tilted too far? Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? I don't remember growing older. When did they?

So what I'm saying is: Here's to Joe Gibbs.

For doing what we all want to do. For walking away on top, before anybody showed him where the door was.

Coach "Joe" was never my hero before.

He is now.

He wasn't fired. He isn't dying. He's 52, and he's saying, "Leave a message on my machine, and maybe I'll call you back." Hooray for him.

Nobody walks away like this in Washington. No, they're either left for dead on the Senate floor at a confirmation hearing, or they're making some rambling wistful concession speech at 2 in the morning.

Don't you see ... this is the American Dream.

To be able to work hard, and achieve -- and say hasta luego.

Q. Might Gibbs come back?

A. Sure. Walsh couldn't stay away. Parcells couldn't stay away. I suspect Gibbs will coach again because it's in his bones. Where? I don't know. As long as The Squire owns the Redskins, the door would be open here. It happened with Earl Weaver in Baltimore. (Don't even mention Billy Martin, because that was a crude, manipulative parody, and neither Steinbrenner nor Martin had a shred of integrity.)

Anyway that's down the road. The point here is that I can't believe there's a middle-aged man who doesn't right now have his hat off, and his glass raised to Gibbs. There may be younger people out there in shock that Gibbs could walk away from a dream job and all that money. But not anybody over 40. Not anybody who's had that first serious conversation about a 401-k and a condominium in Florida. They're applauding.

How many times have each of us had a tough day, and thought, "If I could just hit the lottery, I'd be out of here in a New York minute." Then you don't win, and you get up and go to work the next day.

Gibbs didn't wait for the lottery. He went out there on the trapeze, swung a couple of times to get some speed, then let go. No net. A leap of faith.

He walked away from millions of dollars, from all the fame and acclaim one can imagine, from the highest rung of the ladder, the very top of the ziggurat as Tom Wolfe called it in "The Right Stuff."

And where did Gibbs walk to?

He walked home.

Now, it may be too late for Gibbs to be the "regular dad" he wanted to be. One of his sons is a grown man, and the other has just a couple of years left in college; those games at Stanford that Gibbs wants to see, there aren't that many left on Coy's schedule. But there comes a point in a man's life when he starts to ache for all the time he's thrown into building that career to make the world safe for his small children -- and they aren't small children anymore. So he takes a deep breath, and if he's fortunate, he finds there's still time to be the family man he always intended to be.

(By the way, I knew Gibbs was gonna quit. George Michael told me. He said, "Whatever you do, don't tell Buckhantz." It could've been my story. I was at Champions too. Except I was at the one in Georgetown. Oh, and it was 2 p.m., not 2 a.m. Boy, those TV guys sure put in long hours.)

Q. Is it a midlife crisis?

A. Sure. So is his NASCAR team. So is this silliness about getting in shape to run a marathon -- that'll just take Gibbs a few months.

A midlife crisis is as common as mashed potatoes. You'll look in the mirror one day and see lines on your forehead you never saw before, a puffiness under your eyes, a hardness to your skin. You'll walk down the steps and glance at a photograph you hadn't seen in years, and you'll wonder where the brightness in your eyes went. That's how it begins, and then it escalates of its own weight and momentum like a snowball getting larger as it rolls down a hill, until you place no value on any of your accomplishments and fill yourself with remorse over the time you spent pursuing things.

It was probably easier for Gibbs to walk away now, after such a turgid, stressful season, because his own health scare and the plague of injuries that hit the Redskins gave him a clean view on mortality.

Of course, the problem is that you just can't change your ways that easily. Joe Gibbs is a high-metabolic machine. He inhales work. Something's got to take the place of 20-hour days at Redskin Park, and it's unlikely to be family dinners -- unless the guy buys a Sizzler's franchise.

And Petitbon?

Well, they can start by hauling that sleeper sofa out of the coach's office. Petitbon won't be working those 20-hour shifts.

Q. What do you think is the biggest difference between Petitbon and Gibbs?

A. With Petitbon, we might get free drinks.

I was on vacation in Florida the day Gibbs quit. I could have written this column that day. But I chose to spend the time with my 82-year-old father, whom I hadn't visited in a long time. Much too long actually. I felt the column could wait.

© Copyright 1993 The Washington Post

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