CARLISLE, PA. -- Jim Hanifan's face tells a thousand stories. It has friendly eyes that say they've seen a closing hour or two, deep leathery creases from a few thousand hours of watching Z-routes in the sun and a nose that understands the NFL definition of forearm shiver.

Almost 40 years ago he led the nation in receptions as a graceful tight end for the University of California. These days he walks with a bit of a limp, and when practices end, makes a hard charge to the locker room for a smoke and a Coke.

Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs talked often this summer about his "team in transition." He meant that some young guys might force gut-wrenching decisions about the beloved Hogs. He meant a couple of young defensive linemen came to Dickinson College serious about winning jobs. And he meant that several new defensive backs could play their way onto the roster.

But he also meant an old friend, 56-year-old Jim Hanifan.

For the first time since Gibbs arrived and began to reshape the Redskins in 1981, someone other than Joe Bugel will be coaching the Hogs. When Bugel left to coach the Phoenix Cardinals last winter, Gibbs turned to Hanifan, a fellow assistant coach on Don Coryell's staffs in St. Louis and San Diego.

He turned to a guy who was once voted the NFL's best assistant coach and one with a reputation of building great offensive lines and linemen. He's the man Dan Dierdorf, Ed White, Conrad Dobler and Bill Fralic credit for helping shape their Pro Bowl careers. He has been an assistant coach with three franchises and a head coach with two.

He has had a career that is nothing if not interesting.

"The number one thing that appealed to me about the Redskins, without question, was class," Hanifan said. "First, it starts with Joe Gibbs. Second, it's the organization. I've had to face it many times in the past and I have the utmost respect for it. This place has a winning atmosphere. It starts at the top and goes right on down. And let me tell you, having been on the outside looking in, you appreciate it a lot more."

Let him tell you. He was one of Bill Bidwill's head coaches in St. Louis, and if Hanifan appreciates the Redskins, it may be because he worked for the bottom-line Cardinals, an organization that seems to have put profits in front of winning, dollars saved in front of points scored.

Still, he had turned the Cardinals around. He took over a 5-11 team in 1980, and after another 5-11 year, the Cardinals went 7-9, 5-4, 8-7-1 and 9-7 under Hanifan.

His last season there was 1985. A lot of people, including Bidwill, figured the Cardinals might win the NFC East that year. But they lost Pro Bowl wide receiver Roy Green in the opener and within three weeks were also without both starting running backs and three defensive starters.

"We just never had a chance after that," Hanifan said. "We were killed, absolutely killed." They finished 5-11.

Let him tell you. After directing Atlanta's offensive line for a couple of years, he finished last season as interim coach when Marion Campbell was fired. If he somehow appreciates the Redskins, it may be because he has seen the way Rankin Smith and sons run the Falcons, who somehow have had a whopping four winning teams in 24 years.

"In comparison to other places, this is a place I want to be," Hanifan said.

Does he want to be a head coach again? Absolutely.

"You don't get that out of your system," he said, "and I don't think the Redskins would expect you to. Everyone has ambition. Everyone thinks they could succeed in the right situation."

Having been hired and fired, having lived in every U.S. time zone, Hanifan calls it "a funny business. It hurts when you're let go. It's traumatic as hell. Coaches talk about it sometimes and they all know it'll happen. But it's hard. You stand on the sideline and see a guy drop the ball. You see a guy miss a chip-shot field goal. Both those guys may have been very productive, but who knows what's going to happen that Sunday?"

When the Cardinals fired him, "I stayed out a year. Well, really, I worked for Pro Scouting on the West Coast. That helped me keep my hand in the game and also to evaluate everyone else's personnel. During the season I'd go to the games in St. Louis on Sunday. The coaches {Gene Stallings and his staff} were very gracious to have me."

As he begins to talk about those Sundays when he was a spectator, his face breaks into a half-grin and he takes a long, deep drag on a cigarette. He's remembering a moment, a moment of pain and joy.

The Cardinals had been beaten in Kansas City and Hanifan had gone into the locker room when it was over. He had seen the agonizing expression on Stallings's face and how the players were thoroughly and absolutely dejected. A week of hard work, three grueling hours on the field had gone for naught.

"I'm driving back to St. Louis and it just hit me," he said. "I missed it. I even missed that awful feeling you have after losing a game. It's a horrible, ugly feeling to lose. But when you've been down there and done the work and tried to put a game plan together . . . you really have to go through it to understand what makes it appeal to coaches. I talk to people in business and they say when something doesn't go right, they'll sometimes just walk away. Coaches don't walk away. What happens on Sunday, especially a loss, gnaws at them all week.

"The problem is that the tough loss won't go away and the victory . . . that lasts until you get into the locker room and start worrying about next week. It cheats you out of the good feeling you should have. You don't have time to enjoy it. But, by God, you do love it."

Which apparently is why he's back, spending hours on muggy afternoons bent over, hands on knees, watching his linemen. It's why he alternately curses and praises, why he's willing to work days that start at 7 a.m. and end some 15 or 16 hours later.

Toughness is a word that comes up frequently in his conversation.

"Toughness is the number one thing you look for in an offensive lineman," he said. "The offensive and defensive linemen hit someone or get hit on every play. It's not a cliche to say it's a war. Conrad Dobler was one of those guys who asked no quarter and gave none. Whatever it took to win, he was willing to do. The key was that he wanted to win and his attitude rubbed off on every guy on the team. When he was traded to New Orleans, he lifted that team up a notch, and when he went to Buffalo, same thing."

He gestures toward Joe Jacoby and Mark May: "That's the kind of guys I'm talking about," he said.

Hanifan's first camp with the Redskins may be his most interesting. They're likely to keep nine offensive linemen, and if Jacoby and May recover from knee injuries, they have 11 players with experience plus highly regarded third-round pick Mohammed Elewonibi.

Gibbs said that once the training camp competition is sorted out, he perhaps will rotate eight linemen, the only way to get youngsters Mark Schlereth, Ray Brown and Raleigh McKenzie into the game and still keep playing time for veterans Russ Grimm, Jeff Bostic, Jim Lachey, Jacoby and May.

"I don't know about that," Hanifan said. "Maybe we've got the quality that will allow us to do that. But I like to line up with the same five. You want to know the guys beside you. Offensive line work is the epitome of teamwork. I've always believed in telling the backups, 'Be ready.' But I know we've got some tough decisions and we'll let this thing play itself out."