What made parting with special Redskins toughest for Joe Gibbs also made it necessary: memories.

The coach sees Mike Nelms as the personification of football flair, back there fielding kicks, with a ton or more of humanity hurtling toward him but never the slightest thought of fair-catch surrender.

To Nelms, eight ugly welts is a fair price to pay for eight precious yards on a punt return.

Gibbs let him go.

"What I'll remember about George Starke," Gibbs said, "is that he lined up against Dallas (last season) with a tender knee and helped us win the division. He couldn't come back against Chicago (the next week) and that might be one of the reasons we lost (that first-round playoff)."

Gibbs let him go.

Until this season takes shape, there are few places Gibbs can go in Redskin Park without being reminded how much of a transition he has effected.

Walking through the door this morning, Gibbs will see a collection of pictures that includes:

Charlie Brown trotting in motion, about to slip downfield, perhaps about to make one of those impossible catches that lifted the Redskins to victory in the Super Bowl without Art Monk.

Nearby, Starke can be seen atop a collection of bodies, having cleared a path to the end zone that John Riggins is about to glide through.

A partially obscured defender who appears to be Perry Brooks is helping stuff an Atlanta Falcon.

Joe Washington is seemingly trapped at the line of scrimmage by the 49ers, but maybe not. Few escaped certain loss better.

"I'll remember Joe for a game against Detroit when (Riggins) was hurt," Gibbs said. "He got something like 154 yards and Billy Sims only got 110. Of course, there was that (game-winning) catch against the Raiders. I saw him today, in fact, in films of Atlanta against Tampa Bay, darting all over the place."

Probably, Gibbs winced.

"I personally didn't think Joe should be playing, from an injury standpoint," he said. "The last time he was hurt I don't think anyone touched him."

Washington disagreed about his future, and Gibbs accommodated him with a trade to the Falcons.

"What I've learned in four years," Gibbs said, "is that every now and then (friction) happens. You hope it doesn't, but when it does you try and work it out to their benefit -- and the team's."

Like Earl Weaver and nearly every other successful leader in sport, Gibbs believes selecting a team is his most important responsibility.

The longer he remains with the Redskins the harder that will be, for those such as Nelms and Starke, Washington, Brooks and Mark Murphy will have done something terrific to make his job more secure.

But a vivid scene such as that string of injuries late last season to the offensive line also will pop into Gibbs' mind -- and he will swap a Brown for an insurance policy named R. C. Thielemann.

Gibbs is close to impossible to predict. Sometimes he chooses a promising youngster over a veteran who might squeeze out one more productive season. Sometimes he selects an old timer over a near-certain prodigy.

Loyalty versus potential is a coach's most troubling dilemma, and Gibbs faced it squarely with Mark Moseley and Tony Zendejas.

Everybody is close to positive that Zendejas will be spectacular in the NFL, that he will be winning games long after Moseley walks off the field and toward the Hall of Fame.

General Manager Bobby Beathard, among others within the Redskins, was pushing the younger Zendejas -- and hard.

"Mark came in and won the battle, evidently," said Beathard, his disagreement with Gibbs apparent.

That also is part of the friction Gibbs hoped to avoid as a coach but found impossible.

"Who we bring in is Bobby's job," Gibbs said. "My job is to see who stays."

The older Moseley stays. The older Nelms goes.

Candid and expansive after announcing his latest roster shuffling yesterday, Gibbs admitted he could have communicated better with Zendejas and Murphy.

"Mark also asked why I didn't talk with him," he said. "I thought I did. I wondered why they didn't come to me. My door is always open."

So is his mind, Gibbs insists, although a source said he was anxious to trade the rights to Zendejas on draft day.

Who's best is all that counts, Gibbs emphasized, adding: "If you don't use that, you might miss out on a John Riggins gaining 1,300 yards or Mark Moseley (becoming most valuable player in the NFL in 1982 after serious competition from a younger kicker).

"But you're never sure how (each new team) will come together, how the players will feel about each other. I don't think you're ever sure."

Unlike others in the profession, among them Vince Lombardi, Gibbs prefers to face those who have meant the most to him, to look them square in the eye and explain the sad news.

He leaves many with a story.

"You don't understand how something like this might help out later on in life," he explained. "One year in Tampa Bay (as an aide to John McKay) was the worst of my career. We went out on a limb drafting Doug Williams; he broke his jaw and everything went awful.

"I kept asking myself: 'why?'

"When we went 0-5 (his first year with the Redskins), remembering that year in Tampa Bay helped pull me through."

Having pulled himself through another day he dreads, Gibbs soon began considering the next one. A sign in the locker room describes the pressure he feels:

"When I'm right, no one remembers; when I'm wrong, no one forgets."