A suggestion for the Redskins: Come out here and hire Joe Gibbs.
Joe Gibbs is no big name, no Paterno or Ara or Madden.
But he is what the Redskins need.
As the offensive coordinator of the Chargers the last two years, Gibbs created the lightning bolt offense that has carried San Diego to this weekend's championship game of the American Football Conference.
Quick facts: Gibbs is 40, a coach 17 seasons, nine in the colleges with San Diego State, Southern Cal and Arkansas, then eight in the pros with St. Louis, Tampa Bay and San Diego. . . Three times hired by Don Corvell, twice by John McKay, once by Frank Broyles. . . Always an offensive coach who after seven seasons with Coryell is now the central brain that brings the Chargers' offensive plans into a piece.
Quick opinions: Gibbs could win with the Redskins.
I would love to say that my opinion is based on hours of interviews with all the best football minds.
It is based on the first minute I ever saw Joe Gibbs.
The San Diego locker room was chaotic Saturday after the Chargers scored on a 50-yard pass play to beat Buffalo in the last two minutes of their AFC playoff game. In the middle of the chaos, a fellow stood surrounded by reporters. Diagramming the big pass play, he took someone's note pad and drew the Xs and Os and lines and arrows of "844-trips."
Patiently and precisely, Joe Gibbs explained his contribution to San Diego's first playoff victory in 18 seasons. From his perch in the press box, he had called the play, as he calls all the Chargers' plays. He told us this stuff. Then he walked away to the coaches' dressing room. No grandstanding from Joe Gibbs, no self-congratulations, no preening in the hero's spotlight.
But in Gibbs' voice there had been a quiver, the quiver born of an inventor's thrill the moment his machine works. His eyes were alight in delight. "Joe is unbelievably first-class," running back Hank Bauer would say the next day. "The way he relates to the players, he makes us want to play for him. There's just a presence about him that I can't explain."
Would Gibbs make a good head coach?
"Without a doubt, he would be one of the best choices any team could make," said Bauer, 26, a fourth-year pro. "Joe is a winner. I really hate to say that to you, because I'd hate to see him leave. The players love him and respect him. He's always smiling, but when we see him stop smiling we know he's upset -- and he can get very upset with us. In the right kind of situation, he'd be a helluva head coach."
If you stand next to Joe Gibbs for one minute as he diagrams a big pass play in a moment of joy, you will know this: "The guy is lousy with class," said Jerry Magee, the veteran sportswriter of the San Diego Union. "It's unbelievable for anybody to be that good-looking, that bright, that moral and that good a football coach."
Everything Dan Fouts sees Magee talking to Gibbs, the record-setting quarterback shoos the writer away. "I want to keep Joe a secret," Fouts said, "or some team will hire him away." Magee: "Dan's kidding on the square there."
You get the idea. Joe Gibbs is a good guy. He is a born-again Christian. A model of decorum. A sweetheart with the press. A demanding coach who knows how to smile at the right times.
But can he run a NFL team? Why, you may ask, hire an anonymous assistant coach when Jack Kent Cooke, the Redskins' owner, could stack money so high John Madden would get a stiff neck looking up at it? Why hire Joe Nobody when it would have been a wildly popular move to bring back George Allen? Wouldn't legends such as Ara and Paterno be better than an assistant?
Madden simply doesn't want a coaching job, and Cooke won't arm wrestle him.
By endorsing Bobby Beathard as his general manager, Cooke told us he would have nothing to do with Allen again. Allen will work only with an emperor's title, and certainly would not share power with Beathard, a vocal critic of the havoc Allen wreaked on the Franchise before deserting.
Ara Parseghian has been as reluctant as Madden, and Paterno turned down $1 million from New England six or seven years ago.
Anyway, the most successful NFL coaches learned the pro game as assistants, not as college coaches. The best today are Tom Landry, Dick Vermeil, and Don Shula -- all once assistants at the pro level (though Vermeil went to UCLA from Allen's Ram staff). Allen, Madden and Vince Lombardi were pro assistants.
This eliminates the obvious available big shots. And the Redskins are unlikely to hire a head coach from another team, for that is practically never done in the NFL (a gentleman's league).
Of the couple of hundred assistant coaches, Joe Gibbs is the man to hire.
Cooke wants an offense that is fun. He wants to see the ball moving. Maybe Dan Reeves, the Cowboys' offensive boss, could do the job, but who in Washington wants to hire a Dallas export?
With Joe Gibbs, the ball will move by air mail.
"What we have is a ball-control passing game," said Gibbs, whose offense -- designed in concert with Coryell, a long master of the passing game -- averaged 400.9 yards a game this season, the second-highest number ever in the NFL. "And as soon as the defense gets aggressive against the short passes, we have the big play built in to every passing situation. We burn the defense when it gets too aggressive.
"We'll run a limited number of plays, but we'll run them from 30 different formations so we never let the defense get a read. We'll get tremendous repetition of plays. The pass Dan beat Buffalo with, he may have thrown that 50-60 times from camp to now -- and he'll have the same reads every time. But we'll run it from so many different formations the defense won't recognize it."
The presence of Fouts and the remarkable receivers John Jefferson, Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow turns such philosophy into championships. cWith a less talented team, Gibbs says the system still will be productive.
"Most teams that at least have a quarterback have to break even, or go 7-9 at the worst," Gibbs said. "And very few teams just destitute at this level."
The Redskins are not destitute. Joe Theismann can pitch it. Art Monk, Ricky Thompson and Clarence Harmon can catch it. The defensive secondary is the best in the NFL. These Redskins are not far from being a good team. They can make the playoffs next season if right now they are as daring and imaginative as they need be.
If they are bold, they will get John Riggins back in uniform. They will trade with Green Bay for defensive tackle Bruce Clark out of Canada. And they will hire Joe Gibbs, an innovative offensive thinker in a time when offensive thinkers are dominating the game.