Other than Darrell Green and Anthony Carter, the most talked about man at Redskin Park this week has been Joe Gibbs, the 47-year-old Boy Scout who runs the Washington Redskins.

Gibbs is uncomfortable with the subject. He just was named the best NFL coach ever in a statistical analysis commissioned by Sport magazine. He hasn't read the story. He would rather not talk about it, or himself. But now that he once again finds himself in the glare of the national spotlight, he simply cannot avoid it.

Nor can we avoid the fact that Joe Gibbs, as he prepares for his fourth NFC championship game in his seven seasons as a head coach, has changed. Religious, bespectacled and admittedly boring, Gibbs has a squeaky-clean image. But as intense as he is, as a coach he has shown a remarkable ability to adapt to his football surroundings

"I'm probably a little less anxious over things and maybe I handle the problems a little bit easier from the standpoint that you know you're going to be able to solve everything," he said yesterday at Redskin Park.

"I've come to understand that there are problems in this job, problems you can't always solve. You've just got to learn how to deal with them better than anybody else."

Of all the moves Gibbs has made in this strange season, perhaps his most important was calling one single meeting back in October. The players' strike was about to end. The striking Redskins had stormed into Redskin Park after a morning meeting, wanting to play. They were too late, the owners said. They couldn't play.

So they met with Gibbs for a couple hours, argued, shouted and left. Gibbs left the room feeling unsettled. He coached an afternoon practice to get his replacement team ready to play Dallas. Then he called a few of his regular players at home, asked them to call their teammates, and reassembled the striking team in the evening, for another meeting.

He shrugs it off now, preferring not to discuss strike matters.

But his players remember.

"He did a good job of not alienating us," said middle linebacker and player representative Neal Olkewicz. "That's when guys were at their worst. It helped."

"All the emotions were out," said kicker Jess Atkinson. "We could kind of talk with level heads again. Everything got into focus a bit more. We got a better perspective on everything. It was just sitting everybody down again and talking about it."

"I thought it was pretty good for him to do that," said running back George Rogers. "It kept us together. He told us why we were not able to come back, why we would have to wait."

For a man known for his football strategy, Gibbs surprised observers with the calm, cool way he carried himself during the most taxing time of the season. Perhaps it's not simply coincidence his team has done extremely well during strike years.

"A few years ago, the strike would have bothered me more," Gibbs said in a recent interview. "I would have wanted to control something I could not control. Now, I think I've come to realize there are things you can't control."

Some of the Redskins have noticed. Linebacker Monte Coleman says Gibbs has changed. The head coach he has known for seven years has "loosened up," Coleman said. "He sometimes tells little jokes before meetings."

Tackle Mark May and Gibbs both came to the Redskins in 1981. "He seems looser," May said. "I don't think he feels the pressure as much as he did before. I guess that's because he has been here a while and been through {championship game pressure} before."

Yesterday, three days before the NFC championship game, Gibbs was telling jokes. It's a well-kept secret that Gibbs loves to tell stories. He is the butt of most of them.

He or his family. He rarely sees his wife Pat and their two sons during the season. Gibbs arrives at Redskin Park Monday morning and doesn't leave the building until Thursday evening. He sleeps on a sofa bed in his office.


"It's more time efficient," Gibbs said. "It would take me an hour to drive home and settle down and have some cookies and a glass of milk. I'd rather sleep {in the office}. I go home, my wife's asleep anyway. A big lump in the bed."

To stay in touch with the family, Gibbs and his wife decided to try out audio tapes last year. Pat and the boys made them; he popped them into a tape deck in his car or office.

"They were supposed to be all the things that happen around the house that my wife never has a chance to tell me because I'm trapped in this building," Gibbs said.

"Well, she left the tape on and picked up Coy {a high school freshman} one day and they got into a fight. It was on for 15 minutes. He was drinking something and there was something floating in it. I laughed for 15 minutes.

"The next one, she started telling me something and got mad at me on it. That was the last of the tapes."

When Gibbs tells these stories, he giggles. One would think Gibbs and giggles wouldn't mix, but they do.

"I think it's very important to keep a perspective on it," he said. "You've got to be excited about it. I certainly enjoy it. There are down sides, but there are great positives. It's one of 28 jobs in the world. It's competitive. It has a definitive end. You know whether you've done it or you haven't. I think that's the thrill of it."

Gibbs has received his share of criticism over the years, and he has taken it fairly well. He has had to overhaul a team and, most recently, bench his star quarterback twice. Yet, his players seem to accept whatever he does with nary a negative word.

"Rarely do you have a curveball thrown at you," said Atkinson, who was told last week by Gibbs he would not kick in the playoffs. "Therefore, you tend to put yourself second and put what's best for the team first. A lot of places, it's not like that. A lot of places, you never know what's going on, you never know what's sneaking up behind you. That's one of the important things here. There's never anything sneaking up behind you. You always know, good or bad, right up front."