Washington is starting to look like his team and, more important, starting to win like his team.
By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2005
TAMPA - Midway through the second season of Joe Gibbs' return to the NFL, the redux Redskins coach is right back where he was more than a decade ago.
Working 20-hour days.
Catching a few winks in his office.
Apologizing to his wife.
Oh, and there's one more throwback element to the 64-year-old's comeback. The Redskins are winning again.
After a difficult first season in which Gibbs looked, at times, like a coach whose time had passed, the Hall of Fame coach with three Super Bowl rings has remade the Redskins into a playoff contender in the tight NFC East.
Sunday's game between the Redskins and Bucs, both 5-3, at Raymond James Stadium has playoff implications as a potential head-to-head tiebreaker in the NFC wild-card race.
"You have to realize, the past doesn't buy you anything," said Gibbs, whose .683 winning percentage prior to his 1992 retirement was the best in NFL history among coaches with at least 125 wins. "It was a big learning curve for me. We started from scratch."
Gibbs, who led Washington to three Super Bowl victories in the 1980s and '90s, was considered an offensive mastermind in his first coaching stint. But plenty about the NFL had changed by 2004.
At times last season, the Redskins' sideline seemed disorganized as play clocks expired and questionable calls went unchallenged. Washington went 6-10 with an offense ranked 30th out of 32 teams. Critics said Gibbs made a mistake coming back.
Those close to Gibbs knew better.
"I know Joe Gibbs well enough to know how he runs things and he's going to find a way to get some people in there that he believes can do the things he needs done," said Bucs personnel executive Doug Williams, quarterback in Gibbs' Super Bowl XXII win. "Joe Gibbs is about winning."
Though Gibbs had assured his wife, Pat, this time would be different, he quickly let go of the notion his second NFL stint would be any less consuming than the first.
"You kind of kid yourself when you come back and say, "Well, I'm going to rearrange the staff and do things a little differently," he said.
"As soon as that first loss hits, you're grinding it. You crowd so much into the day there's not enough day left. My wife kids me, "Well, you're going to prison for 41/2 months.' "
By the start of 2005, Gibbs had begun to put his imprint on the franchise once again.
A trade sent receiver Laveranues Coles to the Jets for Santana Moss, a seemingly even swap of speedy receivers that has been a big-play boon for the Redskins. A change at quarterback from Patrick Ramsey to veteran Mark Brunell, whom Gibbs acquired in a tradebefore 2004, brought stability and leadership.
And the hard-line decision to bench Pro Bowl linebacker LaVar Arrington because he failed to play within the system let everyone know who was in charge.
Old-school still works.
In addition to Gibbs, 60-something coaches Bill Parcells and Dick Vermeil, both former Super Bowl winners who "retired" for several years, are 5-3 playoff contenders with the Cowboys and Chiefs, respectively, after losing seasons in 2004.
"I would classify him as old-school, but I say that in a positive way," Brunell said of Gibbs. "Maybe the game has changed as far as the X's and O's, but football is the same as it was his first go-around. ... He is old-school, and I think we benefit from that."
Now, the Redskins offense ranks 11th, averaging 342.6 yards. Moss ranks second in receiving yards with 856 - Carolina's Steve Smith has 903 - including five catches of 40 or more yards. Brunell, who lost the starting job last season, is the NFC's fifth-rated passer with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions.
"Last year, we could get no big plays down the field," Gibbs said.
Despite the explosiveness of the passing game - touchdown passes of 39 and 70 yards to Moss in the final five minutes sparked a 14-13 victory at Dallas - every Gibbs offense is built around the running game. Clinton Portis has three 100-yard games.
So, Gibbs is back to his old ways, winning and otherwise. On a recent scouting trip to Washington, Williams ran into Gibbs' son, Coy, who is a Redskins assistant.
"He shook his head and said, "Same as it used to be. Long hours. Mom is at home with her mouth poked out because Joe wasn't supposed to be gone that long, but he's still doing it,' " Williams said. "But if you look at what he's done so far, they've turned it around."