On July 17, 1997, he signed a Redskins contract again and then a release from the same contract so that he could retire as a Redskin.
Other departures followed that summer. When linebacker Wilber Marshall demanded a $3 million salary, Cooke ordered him traded. Cornerback Martin Mayhew and defensive end Fred Stokes, a playmaker with 24 sacks in 53 games, both departed via free agency. Pass-rushing specialist Jumpy Geathers, who had performed so brilliantly in 1991, signed on with the Atlanta Falcons.
If the Redskins had had young players prepared to fill these jobs, the departures wouldn't have been so costly. Indeed, none of the departing players ever did much after leaving Redskin Park. But the Redskins didn't have the replacements. That summer, they signed a motley crew of free agents wide receiver Tim McGee, defensive end Al Noga, linebackers Carl Banks and Rick Graf and drafted Notre Dame cornerback Tom Carter.
The free fall had begun. With the disappearance of Gibbs, Rypien's No.1 defender, Cooke got his wish for a new quarterback. He got a lot of other wishes as well throughout the season. Benching Brian Mitchell for rookie Reggie Brooks. Benching Rypien. Benching quarterback Cary Conklin. The Redskins seemingly went out of their way to start erasing the memory of Gibbs, including removing his one-running-back offense.
Still, Petitbon had one terrific night. In his first game as coach, the Redskins pounded the Cowboys, 35-16. For a brief moment at least, the new era didn't look so bad.
But six straight defeats followed. Rypien was injured in Game 2 against Arizona. Carter was beaten on a last-second touchdown pass in Game 3. The Redskins were on their way to a disastrous 4-12 season their worst record in three decades. Only 42,836 showed up at RFK for the regular season finale against the Minnesota Vikings, a 14-9 loss. Before the end of the season, Cooke and Casserly had decided to fire Petitbon. They knew that the Redskins had personnel problems, but both were convinced that the team also was poorly coached. Casserly spent a large portion of his time in December evaluating Cowboys offensive coordinator Norv Turner, collecting newspaper clips, talking to his colleagues and looking at game films.
By the time that last game against Minnesota was over, Casserly had convinced Cooke that Turner should be the next Redskins coach. Four days later, Petitbon was summoned to Cooke's office for the firing. Petitbon might not have been head coach material, but it's clear in retrospect that he never had a chance.