Gibbs will turn the 'Skins around

The rehiring of Joe Gibbs is exactly what Dan Snyder and the Redskins need.

Updated: January 8, 2004, 10:07 AM ET
By Tom Friend | ESPN The Magazine

I can't wait for Redskins-Cowboys again.

I can't wait for Joe Gibbs' rematch with Bill Parcells -- without Lawrence Taylor!

Joe Gibbs
Gibbs
What, this isn't big news to you? The Redskins rehiring Joe Gibbs? If it's not, the hell with you then. This would be the equivalent of Casey Stengel returning to mange the Yankees. Or Vince Lombardi returning to coach the Packers. This is a Hall of Fame coach coming back to where he belongs. This isn't Parcells selling his soul to Jerry Jones. Joe Gibbs turned down NFL jobs for 11 years, and I'll tell you why -- because he's a better man than Parcells. You think Gibbs would've come out of retirement to coach the Panthers? Or the Falcons? Or the, gulp, Cowboys? Never. Never in a million years. He's no Parcells. He's no sell-out. He was a Redskin in '81, and it looks like he's a Redskin again. And I promise you'll never hear another peep out of Dan Snyder.

With the Redskins on the brink of becoming the Arizona Cardinals, Snyder has done what he had to do: he's gone retro. Dan Snyder is conniving, and Dan Snyder is impatient, but the one person he'll never interfere with is Joseph Gibbs.

Do you know who Dan Snyder is? He's a kid from Charles W. Woodward High School in Rockville, Md. who grew up during the Redskin golden years. He grew up at a time Edward Bennett Williams was hiring Vince Lombardi and then George Allen to save the franchise. You think Steve Spurrier was a big name? Hah! Lombardi, now that's a name. Allen, that's a name. Dan Snyder grew up in an era where, from 1971-92, the Redskins had exactly two losing seasons, a 6-10 in 1980 and a 7-9 in '88. Other than that, it was five Super Bowl appearances and three titles, all courtesy of Joe Gibbs. It was Sonny and Billy and Hanburger in the 70s, and it was Gibbs and Riggo and Joey T. and Monk in the 80s. It was Sunday night celebrations at Duke Zieberts, it was Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in the owner's box and it was RFK Stadium throbbing, throbbing.

Did little Dan Snyder get spoiled by it all? Of course he did. I went to a high school down the street from Snyder's, Wootton, and I got spoiled, too. From 1969-92, the team had three Hall of Fame head coaches. From 1971-85, they had just three celebrity quarterbacks -- Sonny Jurgensen, Bill Kilmer and Joe Theismann. And after that, you could've handed Gibbs anybody (even someone named Danny Wuerffel), and he'd have won with him. I mean, Gibbs won Super Bowls with Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien. He made the last two guys Super Bowl MVPs. It was football nirvana, and a young Dan Snyder even sat in the stands for the last game Gibbs ever coached, a playoff game in San Francisco in 1992. He sat in the stands and cheered. Lost his voice.

So there you have it. Now you know why Dan Snyder is nuts for the Redskins. Now you know why he overpaid Spurrier and why, after that mistake, he's reaching out to Gibbs. Now you know why he wants a celebrity coach, why he wishes he could walk into ol' Duke Zieberts and get standing ovations, the way Edward Bennett Williams used to, the way George Allen used to, the way every Redskin used to.

He could've hired Jim Fassel -- and if Gibbs falls through, he still might. But getting Joe Gibbs is bigger than big. I don't care if he's 63, and I don't care if he can only hold up until he's 65. This franchise needed credibility and it needed an old friend. And when Dan Snyder reintroduces Joe Gibbs as head coach, he will be able to just put his feet up and watch.

You think the game's passed him by? Please. Take a look at Dick Vermeil, Parcells. They're just as ancient, and look what they did this year. I'm guessing Gibbs will bring old buddy Joe Bugel back as his assistant head coach, and I bet he'll bring Russ Grimm back from Pittsburgh and groom him to be his successor. He'll also probably hire former Bills coach Gregg Williams as his defensive coordinator, and I bet he'll work smoothly with Snyder's personnel director, Vinny Cerrato (Vinny's mentor is Lou Holtz; he's been around legends before).

He'll have to get used to free agency and instant replay, but don't think for a minute he'll tolerate the cell phones and the eccentricities of today's young players. When I covered the Redskins for the Washington Post in the 80s, Joe Gibbs had his hand in everything. He was a control freak who slept at the office and who wanted lunch pail, work ethic players. At the same time, he knows how to deal with egos. He had Riggins and Theismann and Dexter Manley eating out of the palm of his hand. He's a people person.

And now the rivalries will fire up again. Back then, Giant Week was as bad as Cowboy Week. He was always afraid L.T. would kill his quarterback, so sometimes he'd only send one receiver out in a pattern and use everyone else to block. You think Patrick Ramsey's gonna get killed this year? Forget it.

He's more of disciplinarian than you'll ever know. He'll run three-hour practices in pads. Free agent Champ Bailey will want to stay now. LaVar Arrington will stop freelancing. If Ramsey thought Steve Spurrier knew quarterbacking, wait until he gets a load of Gibbs.

Gibbs is also the master of adjustment. At halftime, he'd always come up with some new wrinkle, and he'll adjust to the new NFL, too. I found it amusing how people say that Spurrier came to the NFL to see if his Fun 'N Gun would work and then quit when he realized it wouldn't. What a loser! Gibbs came to the Redskins in 1981 with the same reputation as a gun-slinging coach, straight from the Air Coryell Chargers. But after an 0-5 start, he looked at his roster and adjusted, became a run-first offense behind Riggins. He didn't quit, he didn't run off to play golf. It took guts to do what change everything, but Joe Gibbs is no dummy.

And he'll do it again. It won't be easy to win, not without a defensive line, but I bet they make a run at free agent defensive end Darren Howard or Jevon Kearse. And I bet Gibbs won't quit until he has his Redskins, his one and only Redskins, back in contention. The only coach who seemed to have his number in the old days was Parcells, but now he'll get another shot at the Tuna -- twice a year! I only wish Spurrier hadn't gutted his backfield, hadn't run Stephen Davis out of town. Because that would've been something to see … Stephen Davis running 50-gut.

But that's okay. Joe Gibbs won with a scat back named Joe Washington, and he'll win with a scatback named Trung Canidate.

Can we play at RFK?

Tom Friend writes for ESPN The Magazine.

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