- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

On most NFL teams, replacing the quarterbacks coach isn’t that big a deal.

On a Joe Gibbs team, though, it is.

When it comes to his offensive staff, Gibbs has always taken a till-death-do-us-part approach. In his first term with the Redskins, he never fired or reassigned a single offensive assistant — not that he had much reason to. The only time the faces around him changed was when Dan Henning left to take the head job with the Falcons or Joe Bugel left to take the head job with the Cardinals or Jack Burns left to become an offensive coordinator with the Vikings. (And Henning, you may recall, later returned, as have Bugel and Burns.)

Buges, Don Breaux, Rennie Simmons, et al. — they were like Gibbs’ Knights of the Round Table. They batted ideas around with him for more than a decade, a glorious period that saw the Redskins win three Super Bowls. So it’s a very big deal indeed that Coach Joe, in the wake of a 6-10 season, has decided to shuffle his staff. It’s a very big deal indeed that Burns is out as the QBs coach — he’ll have other duties next season — and Bill Musgrave, recently deposed as Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator, is in. Gibbs, fiercely loyal and not a little stubborn, wouldn’t make a move like this if it weren’t absolutely, positively necessary.

And it is absolutely, positively necessary. Or rather, something is absolutely, positively necessary. Something had to be done after the Redskins averaged just 15 points a game, second fewest in the league, and got meager production out of Coach Joe’s handpicked quarterback, Mark Brunell.

Gibbs has yet to concede he made a mistake by signing Brunell, but at least he’s acknowledging his veteran staff could use some youthful input, that it might be nice to have somebody involved with the passing game who was born after World War II. Musgrave is 37, spent six years in the NFL as a clipboard-carrying quarterback and was coached by the likes of Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan. His background in the West Coast Offense could come in handy as Coach Joe seeks to tweak and retool his attack in the coming months.

Best of all, Musgrave has some experience with something I’ve been encouraging the Redskins to try — the shotgun. The Jaguars used it extensively with Byron Leftwich this season, not only in passing and catch-up situations but also as a change of pace. Perhaps Musgrave can talk his new boss into giving it a whirl.

Gibbs’ continued opposition to the maneuver is, well, interesting. His objection to it — publicly, anyway — has always been on philosophical grounds. Something about blocking schemes and pass-rushing angles. But I’ve always felt, too, that he resisted the shotgun because it tended to be associated with the archrival Cowboys and coach Tom Landry. Nowadays, of course, everybody uses it, so it’s hard to figure why Coach Joe hasn’t been more willing to experiment.

Maybe he finally is. Gibbs has said all along he’s “open to anything,” to any change that might get the Redskins back in the winner’s circle, and the Musgrave hire is proof of that. And if Musgrave turns him into a West Coast wonk … how bizarre would that be? I mean, imagine Coach Joe’s club running a variation of Bill Walsh’s offense and using Tom Landry’s shotgun. (I’ll believe it when I see it.)

Still, at least the man is showing some flexibility in his, uh, latter years. That’s more than can be said for Marty Schottenheimer when he was here. Remember how resolutely Marty refused to change his offensive staff after the 2001 season (when the Redskins’ favorite play was a 9-yard draw to Ki-Jana Carter on third-and-15)? That was just plain silly.

Schottenheimer has been reborn in San Diego, but only because he packed Marty Ball off to the archives and adopted a more wide-open offensive approach. Unfortunately for Chargers fans, he still has relapses, is still a recovering Schottenheimer. We saw that in San Diego’s playoff loss to the Jets on Saturday. After the Bolts drove to the New York 22 in overtime — mostly through the air — Marty had them run the ball three times (total gain: nada) and left rookie Nate Kaeding with a 40-yard field goal attempt in wet conditions. Some coaches never learn.

Gibbs, in his Second Coming, is trying to evolve, though, trying to expose himself to other ways of thinking. How far, exactly, is he willing to go? That, my friends, is the question.

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