"The Redskin job seems like the one shot. I want in coaching," Joe Gibbs said. "I want to be someplace 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, that I am proud of."
Gibbs, the brain that makes "Air Coryell" fly so high, will meet soon with Jack Kent Cooke, the owner of the Redskins. Cooke will hire the San Diego offensive coordinator to succeed Jack Pardee -- with the single qualification that Cooke first wants to meet this fellow he has heard so much about.
"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."
And who is this fellow Joe Gibbs?
"He's a genius," said Dan Fouts, the San Diego quarterback who broke every important NFL passing record in the two years Gibbs has coached the quarterbacks and called the plays from the press box.
Wait a second. Don Coryell, the Charger coach, long has been a master of the passing game. How much, then, can Gibbs have to do with the offense?
"Everything," said Kellen Winslow, the San Diego tight end who led the NFL in catches this season with 89.
So Joe Gibbs, 40, a coach 17 years, a dreamer who realized five years ago he was ready to be an NFL head coach -- this Joe Gibbs, a tough old tight end and linebacker himself on Coryell's college teams, is a genius with total command of the Xs and Os.
But what about moving his men to play above themselves?
"The way he relates to the players, he makes us want to play for him," said Hank Bauer, a running back. "There's just a presence about him that I can't explain. Joe is a winner. . . The players really love and respect him."
America saw Joe Gibs at work today as the Chargers lit up the sky with their lightning bolt offense.
And it was more fun in a day than the dreary Redskins of 1980 produced in a season of Neanderthal football.
Fouts put up 45 passes, completing 22 for 336 yards in the 34-27 loss to Oakland in the American Football Conference championship game. More important than quantity, though, was the quality of the imagination and daring that went into the plays Gibbs called from his perch in the press box.
These Chargers played to win. They did not, as many NFL teams do, play to keep from losing.They threw it on first down 17 times. They threw it deep downfield at least once on every sustained drive. With a first down only seven yards from a touchdown, the Chargers did not tuck the ball inside their shirts and pound it over the center's rump. Three times, they threw the thing -- three times, Fouts rifled passes on Gibbs' instructions into the end zone.
Three times, though, the passes were dropped, and the Chargers settled for a field goal. Topeka expecting more end-zone passes, the Chargers scored a touchdown on football's elemental play, a sweep around left end.
A third time, they threw it twice and ran it once from the nine-yard line, again settling for a field goal when a Fouts pass sailed too high over the wide-open Winslow.
That's nine plays in goal-line situations.
"We ran eight different plays," Gibbs said. "We ran one 'pick' twice."
It is good news, then, to report that the Redskins of 1981, with Gibbs calling the plays from the sideline, will be modeled after these Chargers.
"We would be as close to the Chargers as we could be," Gibbs said. "That depends, of course, on the people we have. Maybe we'll run some of this same stuff more and some of it less. We wouldn't know all that until we evaluate the people there."
Gibbs promised this, though: any Redskin team of his will not play conservatively.
"Offensively, we would be aggressive," he said. "We're going to have an offense that attacks the defense. We won't wait around for the defense to attack us."
Few teams attack offensively with the flair of San Diego. Gibbs' reputation grew -- at least with Bobby Beathard, the Redskin general manager and long-time acquaintance of Gibbs -- in the last two seasons. Operating with new rules that make passing easier, Gibbs transformed the San Diego offense in those two years. In 1979, for instance, running backs caught 125 of Fouts' 332 completions (38 percent). But this year, the backs took only 92 of 350 (26 percent).
"The difference is that this year teams have been reluctant to let us get the ball to backs on screens," Gibbs said. "And Dan is a downfield guy, anyway, much more so than anybody else I've been around."
The Chargers even sent the ball flying in a new way today. Fouts fired a cross-field pass -- a lateral, actually, but the ball traveled 25 yards -- to tight end Winslow, who then passed it on downfield 30 yards.
A tight end pass!
"We'd been working on that one for a few weeks," Gibbs said.
Gibbs is not all Xs and Os.
"The best thing I do," he said, "is work with people. With people, I'm fairly aggressive. I decide what I want done and I get it done."
When Gibbs meets Cooke, as a matter of fact, he will have some questions for the owner.
"There are several things I'd like to ask," Gibbs said. "I want to know how we would work everything, who I answer to. I'm very interested, too, in putting together a nice package to recruit the assistant coaches I would want. These are all things I want to work out. Most of all, I want the Redskins to be sold on me."
Ten minutes after what likely is his last game with the Chargers, Gibbs sat in the old leather easy chair in front of Dan Fouts' locker.
"I'm sorry, Dan, that we didn't get it for you," the coach said.
The quarterback put his hand on Gibbs' knee. "Don't worry about it," Fouts said. "It's been fun."