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Players Say They Never Guessed

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 6, 1993

Just like team owner Jack Kent Cooke, who admitted, "No, I didn't have the foggiest notion," most of Joe Gibbs's players woke up yesterday to jolting telephone calls from friends, relatives and reporters wondering if they'd heard the stunning news that Gibbs had resigned.

Quarterback Mark Rypien said he "almost drove off the road" heading to Redskin Park when he heard for certain that Gibbs, the only head coach he's had as a professional, the man who stood by him in good times and bad, had decided to resign after 12 years as coach of the Washington Redskins and would be replaced by assistant coach Richie Petitbon.

"Everyone was just shocked when we heard," said defensive tackle Eric Williams. "I'm still shocked. Jim Lachey called me from Ohio and I told him it was true. He thought it was an April Fools' joke. I said 'Jimmy, it's March.' "

All morning and early afternoon, players trickled into the team's Virginia headquarters. Many were immediately surrounded by microphones and camera crews as they stepped out of their cars in the parking lot and headed inside to hear it for themselves. Most stayed for the news conference later in the day, and gave their coach a standing ovation when he finished a rambling and emotional explanation of how he had come to reach what he described as "the toughest decision I've ever made in my life."

"I'm proud to have been been part of the era and the greatness he's brought to the game," Rypien said later. "I feel very fortunate to have been part of that. ... I found out first this morning. My brother-in-law woke us up and shocked us.

"But then, I look back at some of the things he's said and it makes a little more sense. ... I respect his decision. There will be a void. I spent 95 percent of my time with him when I came here. Everything we did on the field, in the meeting room was his final say. He showed me patience when tough times came my way. I'm very grateful for that."

Rypien said he now realized he should have sensed a subtle difference in Gibbs's demeanor when he saw the coach a few days ago. Rypien was with his wife, Annette, and their two young children.

"He put his arm around the kids; he talked about {the} Daytona {500 auto race}, the emotions of being with his two sons," Rypien said. "I didn't think about it a lot until now. It went right through me. Now I understand."

Most of the players agreed.

"All the things he's done and accomplished -- what else can he do for this city, what else can he do for this organization?" said center Jeff Bostic, a 13-year veteran and a starter on Gibbs's three Super Bowl championship teams. "I think he made a decision to do something for himself."

Veteran offensive lineman Joe Jacoby, mistaken for a defensive lineman the first time Gibbs saw him when he came to camp as a free agent in 1981, said he was surprised when he heard the news, but not at Gibbs's decision to leave the game after 12 years as the most successful coach in Redskins history.

"He's always said some of us would outlast him," Jacoby said. "And when he makes up his mind, he usually sticks to his decision. ... I'm not shocked by it. Coach Gibbs has told us over and over he's always weighed these decisions. You've got to respect the man. He was open and honest with his players and his coaches. Now he's determined he needed a break."

Jacoby was asked what Gibbs had given him as a player.

"A chance," he said. "A chance to prove myself and to be where I am today. Without him giving me a chance to have a tryout, you wouldn't be here talking to me right now."

H-back Terry Orr, cut by Gibbs in 1991 only to be brought back that same season, said he also appreciated Gibbs for giving him the opportunity to play and to become a productive receiver last season.

"If this is what he wants to do, I'm happy for him," Orr said. "He did the same things he always did this year. He came in, he worked hard, he didn't sleep, he put in great gameplans. I can understand him doing this. I appreciate the opportunity he's given me to be in two Super Bowls. You're only given so many of those chances."

To a man, the players also praised the decision to promote Petitbon and keep the entire assistant coaching staff.

"It'll be different in that first quarterback meeting, putting the gameplan together," Rypien said. "There will always be an empty seat there, and I will definitely feel the emptiness.

"Richie adds a different dimension. I know he always gave us information about what kind of plays would work against our own defense. He had a lot of input. He'll have a say in what we'll do. I'm excited about it. We're very fortunate to have a guy in the organization to make the transition as smooth as possible. ... We get along well. I respect him."

Cary Conklin, whom Gibbs had promised a chance to compete for the starting quarterback job, said he expected Petitbon to give him the same opportunity.

"I still look at it as preparing for a new year," he said. "Opportunity? I don't see drastic changes coming. I'm competing for a job, and that's what I'll do. I'll work hard and lay it all on the line."

Return man Brian Mitchell, who saw increased action at running back late in the '92 season, had also expected more time there next season. He's not sure what the change in coaches will mean for him. "Will it be more playing time for me?" he asked. "I don't know. I'll continue working no matter who the head coach is.

"I just came back to town on Wednesday from Louisiana. I've been out of touch. I mean I had no idea about the free agents, new contracts, Wilber Marshall. And now this. Boom. I'm just trying to take it all in."

Staff writer Ken Denlinger and special correspondent Gene Wang contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1993 The Washington Post

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