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An Innovator and a Winner

By Ken Denlinger and Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writers
March 6, 1993

Among Washington Redskins coaches, Joe Gibbs ranks at the top of nearly every significant category. His three NFL championships are one more than Ray Flaherty's; his 140 victories are 71 more than George Allen's. And his 12 seasons are 11 more than Vince Lombardi's.

Reaching higher, center Jeff Bostic said of Gibbs: "He may be the best that's ever coached the game." Without doubt, Gibbs will be the 12th man with predominantly Redskins ties to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That could happen next year.

"Coaching against him was the ultimate in competition for me," said Bill Parcells of the New England Patriots, who, while with the New York Giants, coached against Gibbs when both were at the top of their games in the mid-1980s. Gibbs and Parcells each won two Super Bowls in the '80s.

"As a rule, I'm not big on coaches," said former Redskins middle linebacker Matt Millen. "Players play and coaches wish they could. But Gibbs was one guy who made a big difference. We didn't have the best players two years ago -- and we still went 17-2 and won the Super Bowl."

Gibbs will be remembered for winning very quickly with the Redskins and also for success over the long haul; for teams that were successful pounding the line of scrimmage and for teams with sophisticated passing attacks.

Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Sid Gillman last summer said that Gibbs was the best game-day coach he had ever seen. Frequently, the Redskins would turn a game their way after halftime.

Especially clever at what he called "packages," Gibbs before Super Bowl XVII devised a series of motion patterns on pass plays that baffled the Dolphins inside the 20-yard line. Yet the game will be remembered most for John Riggins's 43-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run on a fourth-and-one.

"He was organized, articulate, innovative," Bostic said. "Above all, he was a hard worker. What you see is what you get."

The Redskins coach with whom Gibbs will be most closely compared is Allen, whose tenure with the Redskins was from 1971 through 1977. Assistant general manager Bobby Mitchell worked with both -- and gave each his due after Gibbs announced his retirement at Redskin Park.

"George Allen was known for the Over The Hill Gang," Mitchell said, referring to Allen's preference for veteran players. "Joe Gibbs had his Super Bowl rings. Gibbs extended an organization that already knew how to win to the ultimate accomplishments."

Gibbs said he never considered his place in football history, local or national, adding: "That's for others to judge. ... Some of my biggest thrills in winning the Super Bowl the last time was watching {two new assistants and their wives}, getting to enjoy it with them."

Mitchell glanced about Redskin Park and said of it: "George Allen started this {with the Redskins and around the NFL}. And it's the greatest thing you can do for a staff and players. He started that."

Lombardi's was the more forceful personality, but Gibbs had a flair for motivation with his players.

"He had an attention to detail bordering on stubbornness," said Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts, whose career with the San Diego Chargers included the 1979-80 period when Gibbs served as offensive coordinator. "He had a stubborn belief in what he was doing."

"Hey," a smiling Gibbs said when informed of Fouts's assessment. "That sounds a whole lot like Dan describing himself."

Fouts continued: "In a game, Joe would call the same play, the same pass play. I'd come over to the sideline and scream: 'Don't you have any other plays?' He'd say: 'This one will work.' And he was right.

"He's the only coach who could run three-wideout sets and also three-tight-end sets with one team and make both of them work. Lots of coaches would say they'd like to use the run-and-shoot but all they had was those big plow horses {tight ends}. Others running the run-and-shoot would say you couldn't have any tight ends around. Joe was the first guy to do both.

"He took Don Coryell's offense to Washington and fine-tuned it for the NFC East, fine-tuned it for his personnel and fine-tuned it for each game's opponent."

"He took that one-back offense {with Riggins in the early-'80s} and forced it down everybody's throat," Mitchell said. "Some teams even now aren't able to cope with it."

As to why the Redskins always seemed to play hard under Gibbs, even against less-than-mediocre teams, Millen said: "His biggest asset was the ability to make things real in that meeting room. He'd be talking about the Cardinals, or some other team that the fans kissed off as not being very good. What he said to us wasn't contrived. It was down to earth. All of a sudden, you'd think: 'He's right.' "

"He's got to rank up there with the best, because he won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks {Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien}," said offensive lineman Joe Jacoby. "All that adversity. Two strikes. All those quarterbacks. Taking different teams and winning with them. He was able to handle it all."

Millen played for Gibbs and former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh and said both were equally adept as tacticians. "Joe always stressed the toughness stuff first," Millen said. "That's why I'd choose him over Bill. He was convinced that was the way to go -- or at least you had to try to run the ball.

"Bill was very, very smart. But he also had {Jerry} Rice, {John} Taylor, {Joe} Montana, {Roger} Craig -- and {Fred} Dean on defense. Joe had lesser talent -- and still won three Super Bowls. And the ironic thing is that his best team was the one in '83, the one that didn't win it all."

© Copyright 1993 The Washington Post

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