- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 28, 2004

That strange noise emanating from Redskin Park is … quiet. Let me be the first to say: How sweet it is!

After all, bye weeks during the Dan Snyder Era have been anything but restful. Consultants have been brought in, waiver wires combed, teeth gnashed — and for what? Things never seemed to get any better. All of last year’s histrionics — which included, among other inanities, the signing of Darrell Russell — produced a 2-7 record after the bye. They also helped turn coach Steve Spurrier into ex-coach Steve Spurrier.

This year, though, there’s no panic in the streets of Ashburn. We’re not reading quotes from “sources familiar with the thinking of Snyder’s chauffeur,” telling us how dissatisfied the owner is, pointing fingers here, there and everywhere. And for once, the coach isn’t on the proverbial Hot Seat, isn’t a sack-fumble away from being fired.

This is progress, folks. The Redskins might be 2-4 — and the road ahead might be filled with Philadelphias — but at least they’re behaving like a professional football team.

It all starts, of course, with Joe Gibbs, who’s been giving his boss a crash course in how to conduct yourself in the NFL. The team, make no mistake, is in the throes of a crisis right now. Year 1 of the Gibbs Restoration isn’t going well, and a turnaround doesn’t seem imminent.



But this is where Coach Joe has always been at his best. When the wolves are howling at the door, his response has always been to ratchet down the emotion, to project an image of utter, almost transcendental calm. Where other coaches might fence with the media or call out a player or two, Gibbs holds his emotions in check and tries his darnedest to keep everybody pulling in the same direction.

Lately he’s been serving as Mark Brunell’s personal flak jacket. Brunell, by any measure, has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the league this season, and if Spurrier were still the coach — or Marty Schottenheimer or Norv Turner, for that matter — rest assured word would be filtering out of Redskin Park that the owner preferred to play Patrick Ramsey. Quarterback upheaval, unfortunately, has been as much a trademark of the Snyder years as coaching upheaval. Remember Jeff George being fired two games into the 2001 season? Remember Rob Johnson being let go during, yes, bye week last October? What other team has pulled stunts like that?

Coach Joe operates much more discretely. One day you turn around, and Walter Rasby is no longer there. Another day, Kenyatta Jones’ nameplate has been removed from his locker. No advance warning, no threats or ultimatums, just: We wanted to go in another direction. And the page, ever so softly, is turned.

Under Gibbs, overreaction has been replaced by underreaction, impulse with reason. It’s not underreaction, really, it just seems that way because Snyder has spent the last five years bouncing off walls. What Coach Joe has done, as much as anything, is lower the organization’s blood pressure — from 180 over 110 (likely to trade a draft pick before breakfast) to 120 over 80 (“Let me think about it and call you back”). His style might not generate as many breathless headlines, but that isn’t exactly the point of the exercise, is it?

The Redskins have changed in the last few months — and the absence of the usual High Bye Week Drama illustrates this. At 2-4, their record is worse than it was at the bye in 2000 (6-4), ‘01 (3-5) and ‘03 (3-4), and no better than it was in ‘02 (1-2). And yet there’s no indication of panic, of behind-the-scenes turmoil, of plans being fed to the shredder.

Hurray.

Maybe now the Redskins can begin to go forward, having passed the bye week test. Gibbs’ teams have almost always improved steadily over the course of the season, have almost always finished strong. The ‘81 club, his first in Washington, won seven of its last nine. The ‘82 club won its last four, the ‘83 club its last nine, the ‘84 club its last four, the ‘85 club its last three, the ‘89 club its last five.

If the Redskins end on a similar upswing this year, it might well be traced to the past two weeks and how the organization reacted to this latest unexpected turbulence. Or rather, how it didn’t react, how it didn’t do much of anything. For a change.

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