It’s no accident that Joe Gibbs’ new book, “Game Plan for Life: Your Personal Playbook for Success,” begins with the story of star safety Sean Taylor’s murder in November 2007.
That tragedy proved pivotal in propelling the Hall of Fame coach, who led the Washington Redskins to their three Super Bowl victories, out of the NFL for good less than two months later.
“Sean’s loss had a definite effect on me,” the 68-year-old fit and tanned Gibbs told The Washington Times prior to Tuesday’s book signing at Books-A-Million in Dupont Circle. “It was an emotional thing. It affected all of us at Redskin Park. I saw a lot of people saying, ‘Oh my gosh. How long do I have? Where am I going to spend eternity?’ ”
For the deeply religious Gibbs, those thoughts and his then-2-year-old grandson Taylor’s battle with leukemia were enough to send him back home to Charlotte, N.C., and his championship-winning NASCAR team. Gibbs had a season left on the five-year deal that he signed when he stunningly returned to the Redskins in 2004 after an 11-year retirement.
“Taylor had a big part of it, too,” Gibbs said of his grandson, now six months from finishing his treatments. “I didn’t want to miss what he was going through. I had made that mistake with my kids, and I didn’t want to do that with my grandkids. My [two] sons both have four children. I sat the boys down a year ago and said, ‘Don’t do what I did.’ ”
To help others with such challenges, Gibbs hired a D.C. research firm to find out what 11 topics most concerned American men. He also found an expert to discuss each concern, such as relationships, finances, health and purpose, and assembled their recommendations in “Game Plan for Life.”
“For me, human nature never changes,” Gibbs said. “Anything that governs people today will be good 20 years from now or would have been good 20 years ago. Health, heaven, creation - how did we get here - finances. What we tried to do in this project is answer all of those. The premise [of follow-up videos] is the Average Joe asking the scholar about these 11 topics. I am an Average Joe from a scholarly standpoint. All I ever read is the sports page and the Bible. My part in it is to weave my story in there and tell people that when I veered away from God’s principles, I got in real trouble.”
During his 16 years with the Redskins, Gibbs coached such troubled players as Taylor, Dexter Manley and Barry Wilburn - each of whom was suspended by the NFL. In between, he was a consultant to Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank when Michael Vick played there.
A firm believer in redemption, Gibbs is glad Vick is getting a second chance in the NFL, but the coach believes the felon will have to be a starter to succeed.
“The only way you take a chance on Michael is if he solves your quarterback situation,” Gibbs said. “You don’t sign him to be a backup, Wildcat [formation] or not. There’s going to be a huge PR nightmare if it goes the wrong way.”
But Gibbs also knows that comes with the territory. He remains a passionate Redskins fan and has followed the team’s dealings with quarterback Jason Campbell, whom it twice tried to replace during the offseason. And Gibbs - who occasionally talks to owner Dan Snyder, executive vice president Vinny Cerrato, coach Jim Zorn and his former aides - doesn’t feel the team mistreated the quarterback.
“If you’re a quarterback in the NFL, you’re going to go through some tough things,” said Gibbs, who drafted Campbell in the first round in 2005. “If you can’t handle this kind of stuff, you’re in the wrong job. From what I’ve seen, Jason has handled it pretty good.”
And while Gibbs always preferred to play veteran quarterbacks, he’s thrilled with the success of his precocious driver, Joey Logano.
Last year, Logano at age 18 became the youngest driver to win a Nationwide Series race. This season, as he took over the No. 20 Home Depot car from Tony Stewart, Logano repeated that feat in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series.
“That kid is such a winning personality,” Gibbs said, “as people get to know him, they’re going to think he’s really something special.”