SAN DIEGO -- It is no coincidence that reverses emerged in the Washington Redskins' offense the same year Dan Henning returned to the team's coaching staff. Nor is it a coincidence that cornerback Barry Wilburn had a nine-interception season the same year former all-star cornerback Emmitt Thomas became a defensive assistant coach.
Rarely seen or heard from, the assistant coaches assembled by Joe Gibbs have played a vital role in getting the Redskins to this Super Bowl.
Most of them have been together since Gibbs telephoned and asked them to join his staff back in 1981. One left, but came back. That was Henning. Another left, but kept in touch and met the team at its hotel when it arrived here a week ago. That was special teams coach Wayne Sevier. Every other coach has stayed.
"Next to player personnel, continuity on the coaching staff is the most important thing," said Henning, who left the Redskins to coach the Atlanta Falcons for four seasons before being fired and returning this season. "You don't have to go reinventing the wheel. You don't have to coach coaches. Everybody's on the same page and you grow with the scheme, year after year."
There are 12 assistant coaches on Gibbs' staff. Seven have been with the team for seven years or longer: assistant head coaches Richie Petitbon and Joe Bugel; defensive coordinator Larry Peccatiello; defensive line coach Torgy Torgeson; running backs coach Don Breaux; receivers coach Charley Taylor and tight ends coach Rennie Simmons. The other five: quarterbacks coach Jerry Rhome; special teams coach Chuck Banker and consultant Paul Lanham; Henning and Thomas have been added along the way.
They work together for 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, from July to January. Many are best friends. Some, like Simmons and Sevier, played college football with Gibbs at San Diego State. Others, like Breaux and Henning were college assistants with Gibbs at Arkansas and Florida State, respectively.
This comaraderie gets results, Gibbs said. The Redskins are known as one of the best second-half teams in the game, always seemingly making the right adjustments at halftime.
When asked about that, Gibbs said, "Our staff has been together so long, we have a confidence about that."
Continuity of a coaching staff is vital to success. While there has been tremendous change at quarterback on the field, Rhome has provided stability since he arrived in 1983. Every day at practice, he puts on gloves and catches passes from Doug Williams, Jay Schroeder or Mark Rypien. At other times, he worked with Babe Laufenberg and Ed Rubbert. Quarterbacks come and go, but he stays.
It's the same with Bugel, who thought up the "Hogs" nickname and became "Boss Hog." Or Peccatiello, who never incurred the wrath of Neal Olkewicz or Rich Milot as they were alternatingly starting, then benched. "Coach Peccatiello has always been more than fair with me," said Milot.
"You can just tell their rapport with each other and with us," said guard R.C. Thielemann. "They spend countless hours up in those rooms, 'til 3 and 4 in the morning, six days a week. They have to like each other. If they were fighting all the time, if they didn't get along, we wouldn't be very successful."
And just how good are they?
"I think you can probably tell what kind of coaching staff we have by looking at the replacement team. They had hamburger flippers and whatever else and they made them into a football team that beat three teams, and two of those teams had a lot of regulars on them," Thielemann said.
Much was made of the return of Henning this season. He is called an offensive assistant, but he is much more than that, serving as Gibbs' right-hand man on offensive schemes and strategy.
He was instrumental in obtaining tight end Joe Caravello and wide receiver Anthony Allen during the strike, and helped develop the H-back position into a team effort involving Ricky Sanders, Clint Didier and Don Warren's backup at blocking tight end, either Caravello or Anthony Jones.
But he laughed when asked about his impact on the Redskins this season.
"If I had anything real special, I'd have used it in Atlanta," he said.