Gibbs Now Open About Lows in His Life
By Richard Justice
Gibbs often has spoken vaguely of the financial problems, and a year ago began including references to them in some of his public talks.
But last week as the keynote speaker at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast and again yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton and later in an interview with The Washington Post, he detailed the depth of his trouble.
He became involved in a real estate partnership in Oklahoma just as the Sunbelt boom was ending and ended up owing seven banks about $1.2 million.
At one point, he became so desperate that "I got on my knees. . . . I said, 'Hey, God, it's in your hands. I'm bankrupt. The only person who can straighten this mess out is You.' "
He said he had difficulty speaking about the matter in the past, but, "Now that it's over with, it's become part of my testimony. I think I can help other young people. Most people are going to have to deal with it sometime in their lives. There have been some other things in [his wife] Pat and my lives that I think other couples could benefit from. We've had a few experiences that have been trying."
Among them: Pat Gibbs underwent two long and life-threatening operations for removal of a brain tumor in 1979. She was at the end of a complete recovery when Gibbs joined the Redskins in 1981, thereby fulfilling a dream to be a head coach.
The Redskins began 0-5 that season and Gibbs has listed that beginning as another of the turning points in his life.
Finally, there were the business deals. His comments on them are rare because he very seldom agrees to do interviews that involve himself as the subject, particularly because he dislikes talking about his religious beliefs.
He said, "I got in the business deals for this reason: I had a short-term contract, I didn't know what was going to happen here and I was going to jump out and invest in this real estate boom and make enough money that I don't have to worry about things. I didn't put my security in the right things. I was trying to get it in money and other areas. I wasn't willing to trust God with my finances. I was looking elsewhere for my security."
He often has said he wants to avoid the appearance he's using his public position as a pulpit, and because he realizes many Redskins fans and many of his coworkers may not share his religious beliefs.
He also has been criticized for allegedly "wanting a team of Bible toters," he said, "and anytime I say something along these lines it gives people more ammunition."
Nonetheless, he digs in and begins.
"I use the things I've gone through to illustrate that God's love is different from the world's love," he said. "The world's love says if you win, we love you. If you lose, we're going to boo you. God's is unconditional and really he's teaching you and molding you and making you more during the tough times. I use that as a contrast.
"I had disasters in three different areas. I learned a lot and felt I was a better person because I went through them."
He discussed all of them in Tampa, telling the audience how his wife was misdiagnosed for 6½ years before the tumor was discovered, how she underwent the two operations and how she made a virtually complete recovery.
"You still can't put it into words," he said. "You can't just write a column and explain what it was like. You're on the border. She had one operation and they thought she was fine. Then she had a relapse and had to go in for more surgery and almost died. That part of it is hard."
It's easier to talk about the 0-5 start in 1981. The beginning was terrible, but the result was that the Gibbs Redskins were born. The longer practices, endless hours of preparation and one-back offense also were byproducts of that start.
"What happened those first five games helped propel us into two Super Bowls," he said. "We learned about ourselves, about the coaching staff. We saw which players were finger-pointers and which ones hung in there. We had a chance to study how people reacted when everything was going down the garbage dump. Our owner was like a rock. Mr. [Jack Kent] Cooke came in and encouraged me and everything else when a lot of others would have said they were washing their hands of it.
"Plus, it gave you a burning desire not to go through it again. You say, 'I don't like this. I don't want it, I want to turn this around.' You don't forget the way you felt."
Gibbs said he became involved in a nine-person partnership that borrowed money from seven banks and invested it in real estate deals.
Since he had signed over power of attorney to the group's general partner, he was a long time realizing the depth of his problems.
"It has nothing to do with who talked me into it or anything like that," he said. "Some of those things I'll never talk about. That's irrelevant. I did a lot of things that were stupid. I went against my wife's best judgment and got in something that was open-ended."
After the problem became known, he and his family went on a strict budget, resigning from their Fairfax County country club and eliminating almost everything they considered frills.
He dug his way out by going "to all seven banks. I sat down with them and said, 'Hey, I don't have this money. If you're willing to work with me, I will work this out.' There's miracle after miracle to this story.
"I walked into one bank. I owed $1.2 million for an apartment complex that had fallen down. It was $170,000 worth of lots and a $70,000 cash loan.
"Somehow, two days later, [a friend] and I walked onto the street. I had made a deal with the bank where they let me give them $90,000 cash and an annunity to swear off all the other loans."
He told the Tampa breakfast he paid off the debt over a three-year period, although yesterday he amended that somewhat.
"You're never out of it," he said. "You never forget."
The discussion of his personal life comes after a season that included many highs and lows. On the field, the Redskins returned to the playoffs for the first time in three years and advanced to the second round before losing to San Francisco.
But off the field, he was stung a couple of times, especially by the comments of a pair of former quarterbacks, Doug Williams and Joe Theismann, who criticized him for a variety of things.
Gibbs met personally with both men about the comments and appears to have made his peace with Theismann, at least. But yesterday he admitted he'd become tired of having to constantly defend himself.
He never talks about quitting anymore. He says he has a "vague idea" of how much longer he'll coach, "but mainly it's however long Jack Kent Cooke wants me."