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Gibbs Resigns as Coach of the Redskins

By Richard Justice
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 6, 1993

Joe Gibbs, who combined innovation on the field and integrity off it to lead the Washington Redskins to three Super Bowl victories and eight playoff appearances in 12 National Football League seasons, resigned yesterday and was replaced by his longtime assistant, Richie Petitbon.

In an emotional news conference at Redskin Park, Gibbs, 52, near tears, described his decision "as a family one" and "not health, my {auto} racing team, the Redskins or any other reason." He said he'd had a medical scare during the last few weeks of last season when he was unable to sleep and developed a nervous twitch. But a battery of postseason tests failed to detect anything more serious than exhaustion. Gibbs said when the season ended he was able to sleep again and listed one of the first goals of his new life "to get in great shape and run a marathon."

Gibbs said he had been diagnosed with migraine equivalence, a condition that doesn't involve head pain but includes other symptoms that often accompany migraine headaches, such as abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Patients also can suffer from dizziness, temporary changes in eyesight and pain in legs and chest.

While leaving open the possibility that he might coach again, Gibbs said he was quitting to spend more time with his wife, Pat, and two sons, J.D. and Coy. His voice cracked as he talked about the pain of having a son "2,000 miles away playing at Stanford," referring to his younger son, Coy.

"I've seen him play twice," Gibbs said. "I want to be there for him. I want to be a regular dad."

Gibbs said he arrived at his decision last week during a four-day vacation with his family in Vail, Colo. "Every year, we get away and talk about it," he said. "We always reach the same conclusion. This year, it was different. The boys didn't encourage me one way or another, but they understood when I told them what I was thinking. I think Pat's happier than anyone. This isn't an easy lifestyle for a coach's wife. The coach is the guy who stands up and hears everyone tell him how great he is. The wife is the one waiting at home alone while the coach is spending every night at the office."

In hiring the blunt-spoken, 54-year-old Petitbon, Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke turned to a man who has been with Gibbs for all of his 12 seasons, and coached alongside Gibbs, whose 140 career victories place him 10th on the NFL's coaching list.

Gibbs drove to Cooke's home last Friday to tell him of his decision. Cooke listened, but insisted that Gibbs spend the weekend thinking about it and even encouraged him to change his role.

He suggested that Gibbs turn over the offensive and defensive gameplans to his assistant coaches, as is done by several NFL coaches, including Jimmy Johnson of the Dallas Cowboys, who ironically were in Washington yesterday at a Rose Garden reception hosted by President Clinton.

"I'm telling you I was devastated," Cooke said. "I looked at him and said, 'Are you sure what you're saying?' I told him I expected him to attend my funeral. He said, 'Yeah, in about 20 years.' "

Gibbs has typically left the defensive gameplans to Petitbon and a defensive staff that has been together for all 12 seasons. But for all 12 seasons, he remained the Redskins' offensive coordinator, and had become legendary for his workload, which included around 100 hours a week at Redskin Park.

"He put everything he had into it," said one of his players, guard Mark Schlereth. "You'd see him in the morning and he'd look like he was going to pass out. He's deserved the rest."

Gibbs told Cooke he would be unable to do the job any other way, but agreed to spend a few more days considering his decision.

On Wednesday, now certain of his decision, Gibbs again drove to Cooke's house for what both men described as "an emotional talk."

When Gibbs insisted that the time had come for a different lifestyle, Cooke agreed. "When he explained it, I told him I not only understood but was sympathetic," Cooke said.

Gibbs then began the business of leaving. Petitbon arrived at Redskin Park on Thursday expecting "a normal day of work."

"I get a call from Mr. Cooke who tells me Joe has retired and that he wants me to coach the Redskins," Petitbon said. "After I picked myself up off the floor, I said yes."

Gibbs had informed General Manager Charley Casserly of his decision on Wednesday, then late Thursday he drove to the homes of his assistant coaches to inform them of his decision.

"He wants to spend more time with his family and we understood that," said offensive line coach Jim Hanifan.

"He wants to look at life from a different angle and we understood that. But it's tough. You become like family when you're back there 18 hours a day together."

The Redskins had planned a Saturday announcement, but Gibbs was summoned back from a speaking engagement in Richmond yesterday after WTTG's Steve Buckhantz broke the story on the "Fox Morning News."

"This is not a very happy day for me," Cooke said. "It's a sad day. This day is one that I thought would never come in my lifetime. ... I believe this is the right course for Joe to take, for him and for his lovely wife Pat and the two boys."

He gestured toward Petitbon, adding: "There's no need for me to extol Richie's capabilities. He's the best defensive coach in the league. I wouldn't trade him for any two."

Gibbs called it "the toughest decision I've ever made in my life," and methodically thanked everyone from his players to his secretary, Barbara Sevier.

"You're looking at one of the luckiest guys in the world," he said. "Somebody that gets a chance to do something he loves and coach the sport he loves, to become the head coach of the Washington Redskins."

He called his resignation "an act of faith" adding: "It's a little scary. I'm wondering if I can live without this. If I had to guess, I'd say I can. Being honest, I wouldn't rule out coaching again."

Gibbs's contract was believed to be $1.3 million a year, with two years remaining.

Gibbs said he still intended to work. He owns a NASCAR auto racing team. He said he was interested in motivational speaking appearances and working with inner-city kids.

But mostly, he wanted to get away from it.

Cooke hired Gibbs in 1981, and after an 0-5 start, Gibbs rallied them to an 8-8 season. They then went to back-to-back Super Bowls, defeating the Miami Dolphins, 27-17, on Jan. 30, 1983, and losing to the Oakland Raiders, 38-9, on Jan. 22, 1984 . They won two more Super Bowls.

Gibbs said he began to worry about his health near the end of the season when he had trouble sleeping. His associates said that where it wasn't unusual for him to work until 5 or 6 in the morning, he had begun lying down at 1 or 2 and turning the remainder of the work over to the assistants.

After the season, he underwent several rounds of tests, including one at Mayo Clinic, and was told he needed rest.

"I didn't think I could recover in the normal five months we get off," Gibbs said. "But in not feeling well, I was able to back up and take a look at my life. I wanted more time with my family. I wanted more time with my sons. I look at this as a window of opportunity with them and I couldn't let it pass."

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post

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