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A window into Gibbs’ soul

- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2006

We have seen and heard Joe Gibbs speak many times over the nearly three seasons since his return to the Washington Redskins and in his years before that with the club and in NASCAR.

Rarely, however, do we get any insight into the man. He is so careful, so guarded -- particularly this season.

But the Internet has changed everything since Gibbs' first tenure with the franchise. Fans these days are much more demanding for information about the team and about its coach, this Washington icon.

The Internet appears to have changed Joe Gibbs, as well. This private person has his own Web site, (joegibbsonline.com) that he devotes to religious and spiritual themes relating to his experiences as coach of the Redskins.

"Welcome to my personal Web site," Gibbs wrote in the introduction. "I hope it is an encouragement to you. I have included several items that I think you will find very helpful for your personal life. Come back weekly as we will continually add to our content."

Gibbs offers what he calls "weekly spiritual game plans" in which he builds life lessons through his own personal, professional and religious experience.

"I want to thank y'all for joining me. And I want to invite you to take a little spiritual journey through the upcoming football season," Gibbs said in his first entry, "The Game of Life" on Aug. 10. "I think yours may be a little calmer than mine."

Gibbs delivers his talk in front of a camera each week throughout the season, and the video, audio and transcribed text are posted on his Web site. Many of his talks reference the troubles suffered by the Redskins this season.

"We're now 4-9, and you can imagine a football coach in Washington, D.C., at 4-9. It's a big deal," Gibbs said in an entry called "Looking Through the Mountain" filed before the Redskins upset the Saints on Sunday. "I've got to tell you, you're getting called a lot of nasty names here."

In the Nov. 30 entry, "The Path to Success in Every Trial," Gibbs said, "I was thinking a lot about the fact that when you're 4-7 in football in a town where it's super important, the amazing thing happens: There's nobody just saying, hey, well we just didn't play good this week. There's going to be actually personal things that are written and said.

"And to be quite truthful, that's part of my struggle as I kind of share with you. I'm going through an occupational struggle. I would have to say that many of you probably listening to me are going through things much more serious than this. But I can honestly say to you, this is a trial."

Gibbs said he started the site to serve as something of lifeline to the outside world during football season.

"What prompted it was ... when I start the football season, I spend about 41/2 months away from everyone, my wife and kids," Gibbs said yesterday. "It's really like being in prison. I'm here all the time, and I pretty much lose contact with everybody. ... It is like you are on an island all by yourself, and it's football all day long, seven days a week.

"Before the season, I was thinking, what can I do to stay in contact with people and share some of the things that I go through during the season and sort of come across your radar screen? Someone suggested to me the Internet -- there are a lot of things you could do there. I thought about it and decided to give it a try."

Some of the entries are intensely personal.

In "Letting God Handle Our Messes" (Sept. 14), Gibbs discusses the severe financial setbacks he suffered while coach of the Redskins in the 1980s.

"I remember that sick feeling that night," Gibbs said of a time when those troubles got bad. "As I got down beside that bed in Norman, Oklahoma, the tears were rolling, and I said to myself, 'God, I've been a fool. I've been playing the game and not studying the game plan. I've not been conversing with You. And I've got in a mess.'

"One of the great things if you're on God's team -- I just turned to Him that night, and I said, 'God, I don't feel like I should file [for] bankruptcy. I'm really bankrupt.' And I said, 'I'm going to trust You to kind of help me. Tell me what You want me to do. I'll do anything You want me to do.' "

Gibbs eventually straightened out his financial difficulties.

"It took us 41/2 years to come out of that mess," Gibbs said.

Gibbs said he shares his past problems -- and the struggles he is going through this season -- simply in an attempt to help others who face troubles of their own.

"You are sharing real life experiences and trying to be a witness and testimony, and for me it is how God has worked in my life through those real tough times," Gibbs said yesterday. "Except for my wife's surgeries, I wouldn't trade any of them, because I needed to go through those things. ... You share things like that with people because what you are trying to do is help them or at least say, 'Hey, these are the mistakes I made. Does that ring a bell with you?' "

Most of Gibbs' talks provide positive spiritual messages about coping with adversity.

In the Nov. 30 entry, Gibbs spelled out four study principles to go "through any trial and be successful."

"My struggle is football, occupation, all the things that are happening to me right now with the press and everything that's being said and written about the football team and about me in some personal cases. I'm going through a struggle there. But if I follow those four steps, OK, and really can commit myself to total prayer, Bible study and following these four simple steps, God has promised me what? In the end I'm going to win. Isn't that great?"

Gibbs also reveals how the Redskins go about preparing their game plans.

In the Aug. 17 entry, "The Game Plan for Life," Gibbs said, "Monday and Tuesday are our two days to put together the game plan. The players come in on Wednesday. We start putting in the game plan in sections. Wednesday, it's first and second down. Thursday, third down-and-2 to -6, plus 20-yard line in. Friday, goal line, short yardage. We put in a game plan in segments.

"And I've got to tell you, if we have a good game plan and the players follow the game plan, we have a chance to do what? Win football games. So if God's our head coach, would He put us here without a game plan? I think not. And what we have is His word: the Bible."

Though Gibbs always connects the entries to his experiences this season, the Web site has nothing to do with the Redskins. He goes to a nearby church, where they have a facility for him to make the video.

"It's things that kind of happen to me through the 16-week season," Gibbs said. "It's five minutes. It has nothing to do with the Redskins. I don't wear any Redskins stuff or anything. But I get a chance to share with people what I am going through, and it's a chance for me to witness and outreach to people also. We have materials through Joe Gibbs Racing, study Bibles and things like that we can send people should they want them."

Gibbs said he has gotten a good response, and he clearly enjoys doing the Web site.

"If people want to go look at it, that's great," he said. "If somebody thinks it would be of value to them, it is out there."

JOE SPEAKS

Excerpts from entries by the Washington Redskins coach on joegibbsonline.com:

Nov. 24: "Power in Our Weakness": "Obviously, there's going to be a lot right now of criticism coming my way and in difficulties dealing with all the things that take place on a football team. 'For when I am weak, then I am strong.' That's what [the Apostle] Paul said. For when I am weak, OK, I am strong. Not in my own strength, but in Christ's.

"And so do I feel weak right now? You bet your life. From a football standpoint, I feel absolutely weak and inept. But as I've kind of struggled through this season, I want to have steadfast confidence in Christ, knowing that if I persevere, OK, I'm going to be strong in Him ... no matter how weak I feel."

Nov. 9: "Avoiding self pity": "One of the things I've hated about life is I never want to be alone. I don't know about you, but there's been times in my life -- I can remember when I was small, went away to camp, I was around other people. I was homesick. And it hurt. I went off to the service. I was around other people, but really I felt like I was alone. And maybe you're going through a situation right now where you feel like you're alone.

"One of the things I recommend to everybody is, through our life and through our travels, we need to try and have at least three people that are walking right next to us all the time. And so we feel their presence. And I really kind of term it 'Godly counsel.' Some people that you feel like are just ... walking next to the Lord. And you can kind of have somebody to talk to when those times in your life appear when you feel like you're alone."

Sept. 28: "Victory Guaranteed": [On a book about heaven by Randy Alcorn]: "This is a book about real people, with real bodies, enjoying close relationships with God and each other. Eating, drinking, working, playing, traveling, worshipping and discovering on a new Earth. Earth as God created it. Earth as He intended it to be.

"Isn't that great? This kind of changed my outlook. I'm excited about this. And I've got to tell you, to think you could live forever with our Lord in heaven. He says it's going to take us a thousand years to begin to appreciate heaven. You know what I think heaven might be? A thousand-year football games. A thousand-year races. All the competitive things and everything that we love to do."

Sept. 14: "Letting God Handle Our Messes": "When I got the job to coach the Washington Redskins the first time, it was 1981. ... Hey, I was a young coach, and I was stepping out. And here was my thought process: I only had a three-year contract. I wasn't making a lot of money, and I had this platform of being the coach for the Washington Redskins. So I said to myself, 'I'm not going to just trust God to take care of my finances.' I said to myself, OK, in my simple physical education mind, that I needed to use this platform to get rich. Who knows how long I'm going to coach? I mean I could get fired. So rather than just trusting God, I kind of made up my mind that I was going to try and use this platform to get rich."

Aug. 24: "Life is a Team Sport": "I think we can definitely say for you and I, 'We're playing a team sport.' I'm firmly convinced 15 to 20 years from now I'll be sitting in an old-age home someplace, and I'll be going with a bunch of other old guys sitting there. And I'll be going, 'I coached the Washington Redskins.' And these guys will be telling the nurse, 'Hey, get this nut out of here. He thinks he coached the Washington Redskins.'

"How important are those football wins going to be? Not nearly as important as the influence I'm having on other people's lives. And so the question I think for you and I is what? What kind of an influence are we having? God says to us in His word that someday we're going to be standing before Him and the only thing that's going to be at our feet is what we've done for Him."