Joe Gibbs, offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, will be hired as the head coach of the Washington Redskins pending expected approval by owner Jack Kent Cooke, The Washington Post has learned.

Gibbs has been strongly recommended to Cooke by General Manager Bobby Beathard. However, Cooke still wants to meet with Gibbs before accepting Beathard's recommendation. The chances of Gibbs not getting the job because of the interview are considered remote. It was reported Wednesday that Gibbs was the leading candidate for the position, although Beathard has been conducting interviews with other people.

Gibbs, 40, will replace Jack Pardee, who was fired last Monday after losing out in a power struggle with Beathard. Gibbs is the mastermind behind San Diego's innovative offense, which enabled the Chargers to become the most formidable passing team in NFL history this season.

Sources have told The Post the Redskins "really want this guy. But there is always the chance the chemistry between Cooke and him might not be right."

The interview between Cooke and Gibbs is likely to take place within a few days.It had been held up until San Diego's participation in the playoffs, which ended with yesterday's loss to Oakland in the AFC title game.

"The Redskin job seems like the one shot I want in coaching, " Gibbs said yesterday. "I want to be some place with a set chain of command so I can create a football team that the city of Washington can be proud of, that Mr. Cooke can be proud of and that I am proud of.

"When I meet Mr. Cooke, all I want to do is be myself," Gibbs said. "I hesitate to make promises about what my football team would do. All I can say is that any football team of mine will fight on every down. I'm not saying how many mountains we might climb, but we will fight every step of the way."

Cooke and Beathard were not available for comment yesterday.

Gibbs has never been a head coach on either the college or pro level. But he is recognized as one of the NFL's brightest assistant coaches and has emerged as a prime head coaching candidate after San Diego's impressive offensive success the last two years.

Gibbs has been the Chargers' offensive coordinator those two seasons. He has been a pro assistant eight years, including seven under Don Coryell, one of the NFL's most respected head coaches.

It was Gibbs' close professional relationship with Coryell, the Chargers' exciting offense and Gibbs' reputation around the league that attracted the Redskins. Gibbs is an intense, outgoing man with a reputation as a hard worker.

Cooke was discenchanted with the Redskins' inconsistent offense this season. He believes the San Diego offense, which capitializes on new NFL defensive rules, will become standard in the league within a couple of years. Hiring Gibbs, Cooke believes, would get the Redskins into this new, pass-oriented philosophy.

The Redskins under Pardee emphasized a balanced attack, trying first to establish a consistent running game. San Diego passes first and rushes as an afterthought. Gibbs has said he believes teams lacking San Diego's skilled personnel still can be successful employing his offensive tactics.

This season, Dan Fouts set an NFL record for passing yards. The Chargers also became the first team in league history to average 400 yards total offense a game and to have three players (Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson and Kellen Winslow) pick up at least 1,000 yards each receiving.

While Coryell is given credit for developing the foundation of that passing offense, Gibbs is considered the man who has refined it to take advantage of the rule changes. He calls all the offensive plays.

Gibbs played tight end, linebacker and guard for Coryell at San Diego State from 1961-1963. He started his coaching career in 1966, when he became San Diego State's offensive line coach. He was Florida State's offensive coordinator the next two years, offensive line coach at Southern California (under John McKay) from 1969 to 1970 and at Arkansas (under Frank Broyles) from 1971 to 1972.

He then moved into the NFL at St. Louis as Coryell's offensive backfield coach, a job he kept until Coryell was fired in 1978. Gibbs rejoined McKay, now the Tampa Bay coach, as offensive coordinator. He moved to the Chargers in 1979.

Gibbs, born on Nov. 10, 1940, is married and has two sons, ages 11 and 8.

When reports that Pardee might be fired began, John Madden, former Oakland Raider coach, was mentioned most prominently as his replacement. But Madden said he did not want to return to coaching. The Redskins also were interested in John Robinson, coach at the University of Southern California. But Robinson recently signed a contract extension.

The Redskins then began leaning toward an NFL assistant to fill the vacancy, with Gibbs at the top of the list. Other candidates were Tom Bass, defensive coordinator at Tampa Bay; and two college head coaches, Howard Schnellenberger of Miami and Darryl Rogers of Arizona State. The only person interviewed by Beathard last week for the job was Floyd Peters, defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions.

Gibbs will inherit one of the league's oldest teams. The Redskins had playoff expectations entering the season but got off to a 1-5 start and were 3-10 before winning their last three games. The only team they defeated with a winning record this season was San Diego, 40-17.