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NFL Rivals Join in Praise for 'Very Gifted Man'

By Christine Brennan and Mark Asher
Washington Post Staff Writers
March 6, 1996

The long and legendary rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins took another strange twist yesterday.

Not long after Joe Gibbs finished a news conference at Redskin Park announcing his resignation as coach, the Cowboys were honored by President Clinton, a self-professed Dallas fan, 30 miles away in the East Room of the White House.

"He heard we were coming to town and he said, 'Hey, I've had enough,' " Cowboys Coach Jimmy Johnson said of Gibbs with a wide smile.

Other than a joke or two, the scene at the White House was reminiscent of hundreds around the metropolitan area yesterday. Everyone wanted to talk about Gibbs. Everyone.

"I think Joe Gibbs is a very great football coach, and, in my lifetime, one of the best I ever saw," Clinton said after the Cowboys ceremony. "I'm kind of sad because I just moved here, you know, and I was looking forward to going to the games and I'm a big football fan and I think he's a very gifted man. I wish him well."

So too do the Cowboys.

"Joe has been a friend for a long time and a competitor the last four years," Johnson said as he left the White House. "He's really someone we all have tremendous, tremendous respect for. It won't be the same here in Washington, but I think the Redskins will still be good. He's a good person. He really is a good person. I'll miss turning on the Redskins games and seeing him on the sidelines."

"It's really a loss for the NFL," said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. "There's no question that he brought so much to this game. ... I know that if I were in {Jack Kent Cooke's} shoes, I would hate it that Joe had left. But I will say this: Joe Gibbs deserves to do the thing that makes him the happiest and makes him have the best peace of mind, so I'm proud of him for that. I'm glad that he's independent enough and has the ability to do the things he wants to do."

From the Cowboys and many others around the NFL, there were words of surprise and praise for Gibbs and his decision.

"Somebody told me this morning and I thought it was a practical joke," said former Washington assistant and Phoenix Cardinals head coach Joe Bugel. "Then somebody seriously told me. I'm really going to miss the guy. I felt bad until I talked to him. He certainly feels he's doing the right thing at this time.

"He wants to spend some time with his two boys before they get too old. The thing about Joe is that he's such a strong person, a very devout person. He has strong beliefs. When he decides to do something, he can walk away and not look back. That's one of his great traits."

Another NFC East opponent, New York Giants General Manager George Young, said he was sorry to see Gibbs go.

"There comes a time when you're competing with your own legend, and it catches up with you," Young said. "I had respect for the coach and the staff. I enjoyed watching Joe's offense. He was an innovator. He tinkered with it and adjusted well. You have to adjust with the players {you have}, and he did that well about every four years.

"He won Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. Their staff did a wonderful job. He maintained his staff there. It means they had a great deal of confidence in him."

Former Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard, who left Gibbs and Washington to go to San Diego three years ago, praised his former colleague.

"There aren't many Joe Gibbs that come along in this world, both as a coach and as a person," Beathard said in a statement. "He's a great guy. He is the guy that turned the Washington organization around. There's not much you can say about him as a coach. He's going to go down as one of the all-time greats."

Dick Vermeil, the former Philadelphia Eagles coach who became known for quitting because of the stresses of the job, said he was not surprised by the news.

"Sooner or later, it gets to you," he said. "I'd say no one would compare with him in the 1980s except Bill Walsh. They were the {best} of the NFL coaches in the '80s. His work ethic was beyond reproach. What other compliment can you pay him? He actually doesn't need anybody glorifying his credentials."

The praise was nearly as great for Gibbs's successor, longtime assistant Richie Petitbon.

"Richie is a brilliant coach," Beathard said. "He's the logical choice. It will be a smooth transition. The coaching staff works well with Richie and respects Richie. The players like playing for Richie. Richie is overdue for a chance to be a head coach in this league."

Said Bugel: "I don't think Joe Gibbs has an enemy in the NFL. People wanted to beat him, but I don't think he had an enemy. He'll go down as one of the all-time greats. And guess what? I worked for him. And that makes me proud. And I worked with Richie too. And that also makes me proud."

Back in the District, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly said in a statement that Gibbs "will be remembered as one of the greatest coaches this game has ever seen. He has provided the fans with numerous thrilling victories and accepted his rare defeats with grace and style."

Kelly said she'd been looking forward to "seeing his delight at coaching the team in the new stadium."

Now, she said, she'll look forward to something else.

"Let it be noted here first," she said. "Joe Gibbs should be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame at his first year of eligibility."

© Copyright 1993 The Washington Post

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