- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Memo to Joe Gibbs: When you’re done resurrecting the Redskins, returning them to glory and all that good stuff, could you do us one last favor and groom a successor this time around?

I mean, no one wants to go through another 11 years like the last 11 ever again — 11 years of indifferent players and questionable coaches and egos run amuck and chickens-with-their-heads-cut off disorganization, on and off the field. The Redskins in the post-Gibbs era became everything they weren’t when they were winning three Super Bowls from 1982 to ‘91. Season after season, they would push to the limit first the salary cap and then their fans’ patience.

Watching the Redskins get after Tampa Bay on Sunday — win the battle up front, out-tough the Bucs at the end — made you realize how utterly lacking they’ve been in recent years. It was far from a perfect performance; the offense disappeared in the middle two quarters, and the special teams had some hiccups in kickoff coverage. But the Redskins went about their business like pros rather than posers — lining up in the right spots, getting the ball snapped on time, playing with emotion but keeping it within the boundaries of legality. You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to get a team to do those things, but the coaches who followed Gibbs all had problems maintaining order … and it usually cost them their jobs.

If only a Gibbs clone had been in place when Coach Joe retired in 1993. By Gibbs clone, I don’t mean an exact replica — coaches like Joe don’t come in two-packs — I mean someone with a similar style and philosophy, someone who was going to Continue the Tradition. Instead, the reins were handed to longtime assistant Richie Petitbon, who could hardly be called Gibbs’ protege. (Indeed, he was more a product of George Allen and long-forgotten genius Clark Shaughnessy than anybody else.) Petitbon, you may recall, immediately changed the offense, went with more of a West Coast look, and the results were ruinous; the Redskins scored 10 or fewer points in 10 of their 16 games, and Richie was shown the door after just one season.

Then came Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer and Steve Spurrier, all of whom were found wanting in one way or another. Turner had many of the same offensive influences as Gibbs but lacked his ability to inspire; Schottenheimer’s stubbornness contrasted sharply with Coach Joe’s flexibility; as for Spurrier, he was almost the anti-Gibbs. Far from being detail oriented, the Ball Coach gave the impression he was making it up as he went along.

That’s why the Redskins seem so radically different this season. Gibbs and Spurrier are essentially polar opposites. Coach Joe, the realist, will do whatever it takes to win. Spurrier, the fantasist, will pitch it around however much he pleases because, dadgummit, he’s Steve Spurrier, and Steve Spurrier is all about Funnin’ and Gunnin’.

The funny thing about football is that few franchises, even successful ones, enjoy the kind of coach-to-coach continuity I’m talking about. There was nobody waiting in the wings to replace Don Shula — or Tom Landry or Chuck Noll, for that matter. Their successors all came from outside the organization. It’s interesting to note, though, that the team that enjoyed the longest run of success in recent years, the 49ers, made a seamless transition from Bill Walsh to assistant George Seifert. (And had the Niners handed the reins to Mike Holmgren, a true Walsh disciple and the club’s quarterbacks coach, instead of Seifert, the defensive coordinator, they might have kept it going even longer.)

Raising such a down-the-road issue for the Redskins might strike you as premature. After all, Coach Joe has only been back for one game — and his contract is for five years (with an option for eternity). It’s just that, now that we’ve experienced Life Without Gibbs, in all its awful averageness (or worse), who wants to endure the horror again any time in, oh, the next millennium?

Like any owner, Dan Snyder wants to build something lasting, but his hiring of Gibbs is really the first stability he has known since he bought the franchise. Coach Joe turns 64 in November, though, and nobody expects him to hang around as long as Joe Paterno. He’s a temporary fix — and then what? And then back to throwing darts at the coaching dartboard?

Gibbs has given the Redskins their identity back, and Snyder, if he’s smart, won’t let it get away again. The future is now, sure, but the future is also five years from now. Who on the existing staff can Gibbs hand the ball to when he’s ready to walk off into the sunset — or is that coach even here yet? Gregg Williams? Earnest Byner? You tell me. It’s not too early to think about these things, not when you’ve got 90,000 people in the stands who’ve just gone through the Decade From Hell — and are finally beginning to glimpse a slice of heaven.


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