Joe Gibbs looked first to his friends.

"I wanted to be around people I knew, people I could talk to and trust," said Gibbs about his plan for assembling the Redskins coaching staff two years ago. "You go through hard times as a coaching staff and that's when you find out who can hold up and who can't. I wanted people I knew would withstand the pressure."

Gibbs wound up hiring Warren Simmons, his best friend and former teammate at San Diego State; Wayne Sevier, another college teammate who had been with him at St. Louis and San Diego; Don Breaux, a close friend who had been with him at Florida State and Arkansas, and Dan Henning, who had been on the same Florida State staff.

He also wanted future head coaches.

"I had a list of people I wanted, and I told Mr. (Jack Kent) Cooke that I hoped we could put together a package to get them here," Gibbs said. "Mr. Cooke and I agreed that these guys were people who probably wouldn't be with us long because they are so talented, people would want them for head coaches pretty soon."

Cooke says the staff is the highest-paid in the league. It certainly has solid credentials: Henning, the assistant head coach and one of the top head coaching prospects in the league, was hired away from Miami, where he was Don Shula's offensive assistant. Larry Peccatiello, the linebacker coach, was Seattle's defensive coordinator. Torgy Torgeson, the defensive line coach, was a highly respected, long-time NFL aide. Joe Bugel, the offensive line coach, built Houston's fine Earl Campbell line and was being sought by Bum Phillips, who had moved on to New Orleans.

Gibbs also got lucky. Richie Petitbon, the defensive coordinator, was on Jack Pardee's last Redskin staff as the secondary coach. Before Gibbs was hired, Cooke and General Manager Bobby Beathard had asked Petitbon to stay. Gibbs then turned over the defensive scheme to Petitbon, so he could concentrate on the offense. And when Charley Taylor, a fulltime scout, showed coaching promise during the 1981 training camp, Gibbs made him a staff member; Taylor has helped develop the team's young receivers.

The assistants do not yell, they teach. They are patient and good-humored and well-liked by the players. Gibbs gives them major responsibilies in their specialties; they make personnel and instruction decisions without fear of second guessing. Gibbs allows them to coach.

"I wanted people who could teach and people who could laugh and have fun," Gibbs said. "These guys are all great coaches and great people. They work awful hours and make a lot of sacrifices, but it's paid off."

Cooke and Gibbs wanted to hire future head coaches. The first to make it probably will be Henning, 40, who has been an NFL assistant for eight years.

Henning is among the favorites for two NFL vacancies--Atlanta and Kansas City. Both have been granted permission to talk to him after the Super Bowl, although he says he is happy enough with Washington to stay unless he gets a particularly impressive offer.

Henning's strengths are offense, particularly use of personnel, and blending the play of offense, defense and special teams. He comes across as serious, but has a subtle, needling humor.

Because of the development of the Redskin offensive line, Bugel has received more publicity than any other staff member, except maybe Petitbon. Bugel, 42, is energetic, outgoing and happy. He loves to come up with nicknames, the most successful of which was his calling the offensive line "the Hogs."

Bugel is known in the league as an excellent, progressive line coach, but his two years on the Redskin staff have helped broaden his offensive knowledge. He seems ideal for a college head coaching job; his personality alone would be a recruiting asset.

Petitbon, 42, has done an outstanding job with the defense, transforming the unit from passive to aggressive, and from acceptable to very good, in two years. He loves the risk-taking aspects of defensive signal calling. Honest and straight-forward, he also has made tough personnel decisions, including benching Ken Houston three years ago.

A former outstanding defensive back, Petitbon now jokes about his dislike for exercise. "But I don't mind eating," he says. Cooke is always telling him to lose weight, but Petitbon says, "You have to work hard to keep this body in shape."

Breaux may be the most prodigious eater on the staff. His ability to pack away food has made him a legend at Redskin Park. Breaux, 42, has a quiet country humor, but he is emotional on the sidelines, where he signals in Gibbs' play calls to the quarterback. He also has developed a good relationship with John Riggins, a factor in his play this year.

Peccatiello, 47, has done a good job developing the linebackers, in particular Rich Milot and Mel Kaufman. He has an inventive, strategical mind and a tempered approach to instruction. "He can take a joke too," Monte Coleman said. "We're always doing something in meetings, like changing the film or hiding it on him. Pec's okay."

Sevier, 41, loves to have a good time is outgoing and has a sense of humor, even when the joke is on him. During practice before the Dallas game, he showed up in shorts despite wind chill factor of 11 degrees. "What cold?" he said. Sevier also produced the NFL's highest-rated special teams this year.

Simmons, 40, coaches the tight ends and also handles offensive scouting reports, which involves extensive computer work. Gibbs and Simmons were high school friends who went to college together and have remained close. They even attend the same church. Simmons, quiet and serious, once weighed 240 pounds; he now works constantly to stay 30-40 pounds lighter.

Taylor, 40, wasn't sure if he wanted to coach when he first began working with Gibbs. Now he seems to enjoy the work. He is particularly good at developing an informal relationship with the players, an ability that some former athletes lack.

Torgeson, 53, talks softly and infrequently, but when he flares, his linemen pay attention. A skilled technican, he has become a defensive line specialist, spending most of his 24 years as an NFL assistant working at that job. This is his third time around on the Redskin staff.