- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

He’s going through one of the toughest stretches of his coaching career. His team has lost five of its last six games. Four key players have been lost for the year because of injury, and his star linebacker (who’s already missed five games) is likely to be out another four. His top rookie was arrested for drunken driving. And on Sunday he had 90,000 hometown fans pleading with him to bench his starting quarterback.

Joe Gibbs has been thrust into a veritable field of land mines the last few weeks, yet the veteran coach has managed to diffuse each of them and in the process keep the Washington Redskins from blowing up in his face.

“That just shows the experience the guy has,” tackle Chris Samuels said. “He’s been around a long time, and he’s been through tough situations before. He’s definitely pretty calm about the whole thing.”

With his matter-of-fact approach to football and his keen sense of team-building, Gibbs is the only thing keeping the Redskins together these days. Not many 2-5 teams would be able to brush aside their mounting troubles, on and off the field, as though they are nothing but minor inconveniences.

But Washington has managed to do so, and the credit all goes to Gibbs, who in the last week alone has had to deal with the following issues:

cThe loss of two more players to season-ending injuries. Kick returner Chad Morton (torn ACL) and safety Andre Lott (torn pectoral muscle) both were injured in Sunday’s loss and yesterday were placed on IR. There they join safety Matt Bowen (torn ACL) and tackle Jon Jansen (ruptured Achilles’ tendon).

cThe arrest of rookie safety Sean Taylor for driving under the influence and refusing to take a breathalyzer test. Gibbs benched his first-round draft pick for Sunday’s game against the Packers as punishment for the arrest and Taylor’s failure to report to practice following the incident.

• The ever-growing pleas from Redskins fans to bench quarterback Mark Brunell in favor of backup Patrick Ramsey. Despite a chorus of boos and chants of “Ramsey! Ramsey!” during Sunday’s loss, Gibbs continues to throw his full support at the beleaguered Brunell.

Imagine ex-coach Steve Spurrier withstanding that onslaught of negativity and maintaining his composure.

“In times of adversity, other coaches would fold,” Bowen said. “But he’s been through this before, so he knows how to handle it. He knows how to handle grown men. Not many guys can do that.”

Perhaps no act better illustrates Gibbs’ ability to keep a team together than his handling of Taylor’s arrest. Where some coaches would have been tempted to let the offending player suit up three days later, Gibbs immediately benched Taylor for one game.

More importantly, though, Gibbs had a long talk with the 21-year-old safety. He told Taylor he would be deactivated for Sunday’s game, but he expected the rookie back at work the following day and that he still believed Taylor has a long and bright future with the club.

“He handled the situation with Sean perfectly,” one Redskins player said. “I know other coaches who would have let him play, but it was important for him to send Sean — and all of us — a message that this kind of stuff won’t be tolerated.”

Gibbs also has impressed his players by sticking with Brunell as his quarterback and not caving in to the fans and the media who have been asking for Ramsey.

Where fans see Brunell struggling to complete 50 percent of his passes and failing to direct Washington’s offense to more than 18 points in any single game this year, Gibbs sees the importance in sticking with his man. He wants his players to know he isn’t about to pull the plug and make a change seven games into the season.

And his players appreciate it.

“If your coach doesn’t believe in you and is always switching guys in and out, everything is going to get unstable,” Samuels said. “He’s running the show, and he understands that the fans don’t run the show. I like that about him.”

Gibbs hasn’t given many rah-rah speeches in recent weeks, but he did harken back to his early days in Washington in an attempt to prove to his current players that anything’s possible. In 1981, the then-rookie coach lost his first five games with the Redskins, yet managed to maintain his composure and lead the club to eight wins in its last 11 games. One year later, Gibbs hoisted the first of his three Super Bowl trophies.

Twenty-three years later, Gibbs’ mild-mannered philosophy hasn’t changed. He can only hope the results are the same as the first time around.

“He was telling us they had the same type of season one year and won the Super Bowl the next year,” Morton said. “You never know. Maybe this isn’t our year. But we’re still going to keep trying to finish out strong and build for the future.”

Note — The Redskins signed safety Jason Doering to help fill the void left by the losses of Lott and Bowen. Doering, who played in 47 games (starting seven) the last three years with the Colts, will be asked to back up Taylor and new starter Ryan Clark and perform on special teams.

Washington has one open roster spot, and the club is expected to sign another player before the end of the week.

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