Joe Gibbs, San Diego Charger offensive coordinator, was hired as the new head coach of the Washington Redskins after a 3 1/2-hour meeting last night in New York with owner Jack Kent Cooke and General Manager Bobby Beathard.
"Joe appeals to me because of his obvious dedication to the game," Cooke said of Gibbs after the meeting, which marked the first time he had talked to him. "I have confidence that Joe will provide the Redskins fans with a team that will stir the imagination, win or lose.
"And I believe his abilities match his ambitions. He's a pioneer in the game in as much as he recognized before others the perceptible change in the character of the game."
Cooke's reference was to the sophisticated San Diego passing attack that set NFL records the last two seasons with Gibbs calling the plays.
Gibbs, 40, will replace Jack Pardee, who was fired by Cooke eight days ago after the owner decided to end a front office controversy by siding with Beathard and sacking his coach.
Cooke said Gibbs signed a multi-year contract, but refused to reveal its terms. But sources said it is a three-year contract starting at $100,000 a season.
It was reported yesterday that Cooke's final approval was the only thing between Gibbs and the Redskin job. Gibbs became the leading candidate after being recommended strongly by Beathard.
The Redskins had been prevented from talking to Gibbs by the Chargers' participation in the playoffs. That ended Sunday when San Diego lost to Oakland in the AFC championship game.
Gibbs said he "felt a number of things. I'm thankful to God for the body and mind to get a job like this. I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility and gratitude to Mr. Cooke. I want him to look back on this and say it was the best decision he ever made. I have a sense of urgency. I am ready and fired up."
After a morning press conference today, Gibbs and Beathard will go to Mobile, Ala., to scout college seniors participating in the North-South All-Star Game. They also will interview candidates for positions on the Redskin coaching staff.
"My first priorities are to get a staff together and talk to the Redskin players individually," Gibbs said. Sources have said Cooke is willing to spend "top dollar" to put together a top-notch staff.
Beathard has strongly recommended that Richie Petitbon, secondary coach under Pardee, be the new defensive coordinator and that move is expected to be made by Gibbs.
Beathard said he had known Gibbs for years and that he had "closely followed his career and I feel that he has prepared himself for this position as well or better than any coach in the NFL. He has a track record that speaks for itself. Besides being bright and a teriffic Xs and Os man, Joe has demonstrated leadership.
"You can find a lot of fine assistant coaches but there are few assistants who can lead. Joe has an unusual talent to get along with players."
Gibbs, one of the most highly regarded offensive minds in the league, has been an assistant coach on the college and pro level for 17 years but has no head coaching experience. The last two years, he served as the Chargers' offensive coordinator under Don Coryell.
Gibbs becomes the 17th head coach of the Redskins. He is inheriting a club that compiled a 6-10 record last season, its worst in 17 years. Washington has not been in the playoffs since 1976.
His hiring ends a short courtship by the Redskins, who first were attracted to him because of his work with the San Diego offense and his innovative reputation within the league.
But Cooke and Beathard didn't decide to sign Gibbs until they were convinced he had the motivational and teaching skills they believe are essential for improving the club. They also were impressed with his enthusiasm, his outgoing personality and his desire to work long hours. Cooke was openly critical of the Redskins' lack of emotion this season.
Cooke was determined to hire someone who not only could add life to an inconsistent offense but who could develop the young players Beathard wants to add to the roster the next few seasons.
Cooke wants to make Redskin games "fun for the fans" and he wants to see more passing and more progressive thinking on offense. Cooke was very impressed with the Chargers this season, especially because they were entertaining even when they lost.
Gibbs has felt the last five years that he was qualified to become a head coach in the NFL. His position was strengthened especially this year, when the Chargers were the first team in league history to average 400 yards on offense and have three ends gain at least 1,000 yards receiving. Quarterback Dan Fouts also set league marks in three major passing categories.
While Coryell is credited with devising the Charger offense, which capitalizes on more stringent defensive rules, Gibbs has been responsible for refining and directing that attack. Fouts calls him a genius.
Gibbs played tight end, linebacker and guard for Coryell at San Diego State from 1961-1963 before starting his coaching career. He has coached under Coryell at San Diego State, under John McKay at Southern California and under Frank Broyles at Arkansas.
His first pro job was with St. Louis in 1973. He later moved to Tampa Bay before joining the Chargers in 1979.
Gibbs says he is excited about working with quarterback Joe Theismann, who has the rollout abilities that Fouts lacks. The Redskin offense had difficulty scoring last season and the club was the second-most penalized in the NFL although it passed for the most yards since 1967. Theismann had personal bests in passes, completions and yards gained.
Under Pardee, the Redskins attempted to develop a balanced attack, with emphasis on establishing a running game. The Chargers passed first and ran as an after-thought. Gibbs said he anticipated using this offensive approach here next year.
Washington's defense is in better shape. The Redskins led the NFL in pass defense and were fourth in the NFC in total defense. They held down the Chargers in a 40-17 victory in December, their only defeat of a team with a winning record this season.
Although Beathard thinks his team can have a winning record next season, the Redskins still are going through a transition period. They had 16 players this year 30 years or older, making them one of the league's oldest teams. Beathard anticipates having a much younger squad next season.
"That's why we need a teacher like Joe," he said. "We are going to have to bring along young players and help them get better very quickly. I'm very impressed with Joe's abilities in this area. He really knows how to bring the best out of the guys he's worked with."