- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

Redskin Park hasn’t exactly been the Disney Channel since Dan Snyder took over. There’s been very little of That Family Feeling that characterized the glory years of Jack Kent Cooke. People have come and people have gone, and when they’ve gone — that is, when they were no longer needed — they’ve often been treated with a stunning lack of compassion or even appreciation. (Unless, of course, they were one of the boss’ favorites.) Norv Turner’s firing comes to mind. So do the departures of Brad Johnson and Stephen Davis … not to mention Frank Herzog.

Joe Gibbs is doing what he can to change that, to re-establish the sense of community that helped make the Redskins great during his first term as coach. In introducing Mark Brunell to Washington yesterday, he made a point of mentioning Mark’s wife, Stacy — seated in the front row — as well as the quarterback’s four kids: Caitlin, Jacob, Joseph and Luke. Gibbs’ meaning couldn’t have been clearer: We’re all in this together, he was saying, not just the players, but their wives and children, too. Without that sense of community, without that sense of team, an organization is missing something.

The Redskins have been less a family than a corporation in recent years — cold, impersonal, cutthroat. It’s the only culture Snyder knew when he bought the club, fresh from his business conquests, and it’s the environment he quickly created at Redskin Park. But now he has a coach who’s trying to show him another way of doing things, a way that worked in the 1980s and 1990s to the tune of three Lombardi Trophies. Through sheer power of personality, Gibbs is attempting to transform the Redskins into a kinder, gentler franchise, and perhaps a winning one as well.

Brunell talked about Gibbs’ personal touch expediting the recruitment process. “Lots of times,” he said, “you’ll see the coach hand that part of it off to someone else. But he was very involved … and the deal got done a lot sooner because of it.”

Steve Spurrier was often uncertain of his players’ names, especially if they didn’t pitch it or catch it. Gibbs knows not only the players’ names but also their wives’ names, their children’s names and, if you give him a little time, their parents’ names, too. Why? Because it matters. Because part of relating to a player is seeing him as more than just a one-dimensional jock; it’s seeing him as a husband, a father, a son.

This is all new to Gibbs, this high-pressure, high-stakes free agent game. The only freedom players had in the late 1980s and early 1990s was Plan B free agency, which was a great deal more limited. “I had a lot less to do with that,” he said. “I’d help out a little bit, but Charley Casserly and Bobby Beathard did most of the work. It was a much different process than what we have now.”

Indeed. Nobody ever sent a private plane for Jumpy Geathers. Also, said Gibbs, “We didn’t have to worry about a salary cap. I just needed to convince Mr. Cooke that we really needed a player, and he’d spend the money.”

But Coach Joe appears to be adjusting well to the increasing demands of his job. Though he was operating on no sleep yesterday — “at 12:01a.m. we were on the phone [with free agents],” he explained — he didn’t look any the worse for it. Maybe it was just the exhilaration of landing the veteran quarterback he lusted after, a guy who, in the words of QBs coach Jack Burns, “isn’t going to dive under a table when the first shot’s fired.”

The years haven’t just mellowed the hard-driving Gibbs, they’ve made him more — how shall I put it? — paternal. Don’t get me wrong: The competitive fires still rage. But he’s spent the last 11 years reconnecting with his wife and sons, becoming a father-in-law and a grampa, and his world is much larger now, much fuller.

He first came to Washington as a tunnel-visioned 40-year-old. He holed up in his office, oblivious to current events, and dreamed of X’s and O’s. He returns, though, as a 63-year-old patriarch — of the growing Gibbs clan and also of what he hopes, in due course, will become an extended Redskins family.

One of his next orders of business will be to make sure Patrick Ramsey doesn’t stray too far from the flock. Ramsey is understandably upset that Brunell has been brought in to play quarterback, and such feelings, if allowed to fester, can poison a locker room (especially if the No.2 QB has allies).

Brunell also plans to do his part. “I spoke to Patrick for the first time this morning and got to know him a little bit,” he said. “We have a lot in common. He’s going to see I’m easy to get along with, and I think we’ll become friends.”

The Redskins, after all, are a family. Or at least, their coach is trying to make them one.

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