Gibbs could be in for bumpy ride

Joe Gibbs will have a hard time repeating the glory of his previous tenure as Redskins coach.

Updated: January 8, 2004, 1:15 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

As the O.J. Simpson trial demonstrated, once they add the bronze to the statue and spit-polish the bust, it's difficult indeed to get booted out of the Hall of Fame.

Lucky thing for Joe Gibbs.

While a jury acquitted Simpson, there's no way Gibbs isn't guilty of at least dubious judgment, and he'd do well to plead nolo cotendere to charges he has taken leave of his senses. Makes you wonder if Gibbs, 11 seasons removed from the NFL sideline, has inhaled too many fumes while standing behind his fleet of NASCAR entries.

The first reaction upon hearing that Gibbs has accepted the proposal of Redskins owner Dan Snyder was to wonder if the coach had suffered what heretofore will be known as a Britney Spears Moment. The second was to consider that, if he really wanted to coach again so badly, Gibbs could have inherited the Atlanta Falcons, a team in which he was a minority shareholder. The third was, well, to wish Gibbs good luck.

Because he is going to need it in industrial barrel-sized measures.

Make no mistake, just because Gibbs knows more about restrictor plates than he does running backs right now, his pride and work ethic will allow him to play catch up. Still, there will be days when Gibbs might confuse Patrick Ramsey, his quarterback, with a quarter-turn on some wing-nut that controls downforce.

Closing the knowledge void won't be as easy as Tony Stewart trying to make up a lap after having a flawed right front tire blister up on him. The learning curve gap that Gibbs faces could be every bit as treacherous as the third turn at Talladaga. Clearly, the great coach has been able, however, to mentally rationalize away all the negatives.

Then again, once you've been engaged in an undertaking where you huckster off every inch of the product for more sponsor's decals, it's apparently not quite as hard to auction your soul to the devil, as Gibbs has done.

Gibbs retired after the 1992 season, a three-time Super Bowl champion, a man at the top of his profession. That 1992 date is significant because it means that Gibbs never worked under the restraints of a salary cap and never had to deal with free agency as we know it now. It is meaningful, too, because 11 seasons is a lifetime in the NFL, as Gibbs will soon find out, and the players have changed.

Notice, we didn't say the game has changed that much because, as Dick Vermeil demonstrated after returning from a 15-season hiatus and Bill Parcells keeps proving in his various reincarnations, the same principles that he taught in his first coaching life still apply. His game-planning and preparation brilliance aside, though, Gibbs will discover that, if he tells LaVar Arrington to not freelance so much, the results won't be the same as they were with, say, Monte Coleman.

The Redskins are a team who, scouts will tell you, has enough quality personnel. But just because there's a guy named Champ on the roster doesn't mean Washington is going to a Super Bowl anytime soon. And bringing back venerable assistant coach Joe Bugel won't guarantee that the guy who tutored The Hogs can make a silk purse from an offensive line unit that in 2003 had all the movement skills of bumps on logs. Led the past two years by a man who loved to refer to himself as The Ol' Ball Coach, the Redskins are now shepherded by a man who is old, hasn't been a coach in over a decade, and may not fully understand how ball is played in this millennium.

And then, of course, there is the matter of ownership. Some credit to Snyder, who began the courtship of Gibbs on New Year's Eve at a tiny airfield in Concord, N.C. When we got an anonymous tip that Redskins One was parked there -- sorry, Dan, it's a private jet and not a Stealth bomber -- team officials responded to the query by insisting the imperial owner was "on business."

Yep, monkey business, with one of The Daniel's minority partners, a buddy of Gibbs for many years, brokering the deal. All the posturing afterwards -- the trip to the West Coast, the interviews with three other candidates, questioning media acquaintances about what the best age is for a head coach -- was little more than a diversion. Long before Tuesday, when word began to leak that the Redskins little man was up to something big, we all should have seen the light.

The Daniel, after all, is a product of the Beltway Mentality. He frets far too much about buying success than developing it, obsesses about how he is perceived, covets the lineage of his franchise instead of figuring out a new world way for inventing his own heritage. He surrounds himself with links to the Redskins past, counseling with old school types, instead of trying to uplink to the future.

Build through the draft? Why bother when you can open the coffers and buy a bunch of veterans? Actually hire a coach who can grow with your franchise? C'mon, this is all about a big name guy coaching bigger-name players. Marty Schottenheimer. Steve Spurrier. And now Joe Gibbs.

For years, Gibbs worked under the notoriously meddlesome Jack Kent Cooke, so maybe he thinks he is prepared to have an owner peering over his shoulder. Jack Kent Cooke might soon look like an absentee owner to Gibbs, though, given what awaits him. Good thing for Gibbs he's got a history, after all these years in NASCAR, of working the pits.

People in the business like to refer to Arizona as the elephant burial grounds for head coaching careers. Well, now Gibbs is headed into the Beltway Vortex, and here's hoping he has thought this thing out.

Maybe we'll be wrong about this but, for the heck of it, here's a bet: Three years from now, the guy who accepted the Redskins job as a Hall of Fame member will be viewed as just another ordinary Joe.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE