ASHBURN, Va. -- Shortly after lunch Friday afternoon, Joe
Gibbs will walk onto the field and conduct his first NFL practice
in 12 years.
The never-expected sight happens as the Washington Redskins open
a three-day minicamp, which Gibbs scheduled for the earliest date
the NFL would allow. Nervous but invigorated, the coach wants to
get to know his players as he tries to reconstruct the magic of the
1980s and early '90s.
"I think you're more excited than you would be in the middle of
a five- or six-year run," Gibbs said.
"I've been away from it for a long time. When I was trying to
decide whether I was coming back, I don't think you sit there and
go: 'Here's what I'm going to face; this is how different it is.' I
have no clue. I always found with that, just dive into it. That's
pretty much what we did."
The Hall of Fame coach knows a few things have changed since he
won his three Super Bowls, but he's already out to defy one
modern-day NFL axiom. At a Thursday night team dinner, he planned
to let the players know his feelings about the notion that a core
group can't remain intact for a long period under free agency.
"I don't think that's true. I've done the homework on it, and
you can," Gibbs said. "I'm going to tell them what I'm going to
look for is somebody (who) wants to be a core Redskins guy."
Gibbs didn't go into detail, but he said he had only two basic
rules for his players to obey: "common sense" and "don't
embarrass the Redskins."
Gibbs didn't have to emphasize such ground rules for much of his
first term in Washington from 1991-92, when veterans such as Art
Monk and Jeff Bostic set the example for many years running.
"We had a core group. If we had a meeting, I met with those
guys," Gibbs said. "We're going to miss that. That's why I'm
nervous right now. ... We're going to go back and try to re-create
all that, find the guys that are Redskins."
Two months after ending his retirement, Gibbs said he had only
spoken to perhaps 20 percent of his players before they began
arriving this week. Some of those he did meet, while respecting
Gibbs' credentials, were understandably apprehensive about the fact
that he's the fifth Redskins coach in five years.
"I'm sick and tired of us changing coaches all the time,"
Gibbs said one player told him.
"I said, 'I am too. Let's don't do that anymore, OK?' I had to
laugh because some of them are upset because we're changing
coaches," Gibbs said with his familiar high-pitched laugh.
Gibbs already has a couple of controversies on his hands, and
both threaten to be distractions this weekend. Linebacker LaVar
Arrington is upset because he claims the Redskins cheated him out
of $6.5 million when his contract was renegotiated in December, and
quarterback Patrick Ramsey's agent isn't happy with the signing of
free agent Mark Brunell.
Gibbs said he expected Arrington to show up for minicamp,
pointing out Arrington's recent comments in which the linebacker
said he bore no grudge against the coaching staff. Arrington has
filed a grievance over the dispute, however, and his outspoken
position holds greater sway because he's one of the locker room
Ramsey will need to clear up once and for all his position on
the Brunell trade, which likely will bump Ramsey out of the
starting job. Ramsey's agent, Jimmy Sexton, has publicly lobbied
for a trade, but Ramsey himself has said little.
Overall, Gibbs said he was pleased with the results from owner
Dan Snyder's aggressive approach to free agency, but he also said
the team "got burned" by making mistakes he doesn't plan on
repeating next year.
But that's down the road. Now it's time to go back on the field
"You're going to have the normal skepticism coming back,"
Gibbs said. "I'm coming into this thing obligated that I've got to
prove myself again."