'Skins have mixed reaction of hiring

Redskins Pro Bowlers don't know what to expect when coach Joe Gibbs takes over in Washington next season.

Updated: February 6, 2004, 3:36 PM ET
By Peter Lawrence-Riddell | ESPN.com

HONOLULU -- Next to the Super Bowl, the surprise return of Joe Gibbs to coach the Redskins was arguably the biggest news in the NFL this offseason. Gibbs inked a five-year, $28.5 million deal to coach the Redskins, replacing Steve Spurrier, who stepped down after just two seasons (12-20) as the Redskins coach.

Joe Gibbs
Gibbs
From 1981-92, Gibbs built the Redskins into one of the dominant franchises in NFL history, compiling a 140-65 record (including the playoffs), going to four Super Bowls and winning three of them (XVII, XXII, XXVI). In those 12 seasons, Gibbs won at least 10 games eight times and finished with a losing record just once.

While LaVar Arrington, Laveranues Coles and Champ Bailey admitted that they aren't exactly sure what to expect from Gibbs next season, the consensus was that a change was needed. Even if Spurrier's system could have worked in the NFL, it wasn't working in Washington.

"I think coach Spurrier did a great job with what he was trying to do, but people just wouldn't follow behind him," said Bailey. "I think his system would have worked, but we just didn't have enough people believing in it.

"We need some structure. That's what we need -- somebody to lead us. We didn't have really good leadership."

But while they don't specifically know what kind of changes Gibbs has in store, his tradition of success with the Redskins is something that will benefit the team and energize a fan base that is starving for a winner. Gibbs symbolizes a time when the Redskins were one of the elite franchises in the NFL. And while they might still be among the elites in terms of stature, they certainly haven't been on the field.

"I know he's going to bring some tradition and some discipline and hopefully that's going to make a big difference in what's going on," said Arrington. "He built the tradition in Washington, D.C. that everyone is really excited about and everybody has been wanting to have come back, so the fans have obviously been really excited."

"I haven't been up there (in Washington D.C.). But I'm hearing about it all the way down in Georgia," said Bailey, who was named to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in his five-year career. "I've gotten so many phone calls about him getting the job. They just love it up there. It's kind of like bringing back the old team and what he used to do."

But despite all the excitement, Coles admitted that there is always some trepidation any time a change is made.

"I had a pass-happy coach, so as a wide receiver, everything was great for me last year. I don't know what Coach Gibbs is going to bring in that respect," said Coles, who made the Pro Bowl for the first time in his first season with the Redskins. "So for me, it's still an unknown and when you're dealing with an unknown vs. a known -- which I knew I had with Coach Spurrier -- it's hard to know what will happen.

"This will be my fourth offense in five years and as a player you're just kind of nervous about what's going to happen and how things are going to go. But you just have to take your time and see how it works out."

But Arrington was quick to point out that change is part of life in the NFL and something that he's become used to in his brief NFL career with the Redskins.

"It's my fifth head coach in four years, so I don't get too excited anymore. I just wait to see what's going to happen," Arrington said.

Owner Daniel Snyder has shown a penchant for spending big bucks for both free agents and coaches, with little return. The question now is will Gibbs be able to succeed again in Washington where other big-name coaches like Schottenheimer and Spurrier have failed?

With stars like Arrington, Bailey and Coles, a young quarterback in Patrick Ramsey with a bright future and the No. 5 pick in the upcoming draft, the Redskins have the pieces for a quick turnaround in today's bottom-to-top NFL.

"If you look at us on paper, we should be in the playoffs every year," Bailey said. "But we haven't been doing it. I think that we definitely have the players, we just have to put it together."

And putting it together is why Gibbs was brought back to Washington.

Peter Lawrence-Riddell is the NFL editor for ESPN.com

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