- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

KAPALUA, Hawaii — A difficult and disappointing season did not sap Joe Gibbs’ confidence. The coach of the Washington Redskins says the team can return to the Super Bowl.

“I wouldn’t be there [otherwise],” Gibbs said when asked whether he could win a fourth Super Bowl. “That’s the dream. Is it realistic? That’s up for grabs. It will be super hard, next to impossible, but that’s probably what motivates us.”

The Redskins finished 6-10 last year in the debut season of Gibbs’ second stint with the club, a season that was as tough as the coach’s first tenure was glorious.

At the NFL’s spring meeting, however, Gibbs was genial and relaxed.

The Hall of Fame coach hinted he will use the ninth pick in next month’s draft to shore up a defense weakened — particularly at cornerback — by the loss of key players to free agency.

He said the Redskins are strongly pursuing Courtney Brown and he expects the free agent defensive end to choose a team in the next couple of days.

But Gibbs’ overarching theme lay somewhere else: His confidence hasn’t wavered. Gibbs said he still believes he can return the Redskins to the same heights as his first tenure from 1981 to ‘92.

“I’ve never been someone who could predict, but I do feel better about our players, knowing what we’ve got,” Gibbs said. “… One thing about football, you get tested. How would you like to sit around the rest of your life saying, ‘I felt like I was supposed to do that, but I was afraid to do it.’

“I’m at peace about where I’m supposed to be. I want to be there. It may be to get pounded. That’s part of life, too.”

So are young quarterbacks.

Gibbs reiterated his belief that benched veteran Mark Brunell still can be effective and expressed his hope that 26-year-old Patrick Ramsey will continue to grow into the starting job.

“A young guy like that needs to continue to improve. That will be real important for us,” Gibbs said. “Go back to [Mark] Rypien. People forget that I went through a nightmare with Mark for a while. He turned the ball over eight times in seven games, and we benched him. We did a lot of drills with him, and … then all of a sudden, he took off.

“Patrick needs to do the same thing. He needs to continue to improve and take off.”

Gibbs said he wants his strong-armed quarterback to become more of a passer and less of a thrower.

“When we drafted Doug Williams in Tampa Bay, everything was like this,” Gibbs said, imitating a rocket. “He could throw it through a brick wall. When we signed him in Washington, the guy was an unbelievable passer. He could still [gun the ball], but he had a real feel for things and [could] do all the delicate throws.

“Many times those guys with good arms have to get into passing the ball, take something off it, dump it over the top. The big thing there is being accurate.”

The Redskins added, in effect, three new starters on offense in receivers Santana Moss and David Patten and center Casey Rabach. The defense, however, lost two of its top players, middle linebacker Antonio Pierce and cornerback Fred Smoot.

“It’s debatable what you can do with the ninth pick, but certainly we’ll be looking to help defense in the draft,” Gibbs said. “[Cornerback] would be an area that you would say that you’re trying to do something, but we may have to go with young guys. We like them.”

That also goes for Brown, who missed 33 games over the past four seasons and has just 17 career sacks. The Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks also are pursuing Brown, the top pick in the 2000 draft.

“That’s a process that’s everybody’s going through, and so is Courtney,” Gibbs said. “One good thing about recruiting and free agency, sooner or later they wear out. I’m going to be part of the wear-out process because I’m going to call them in the morning and I’m going to call them at night.

“Sooner or later, they’re going to say, ‘OK, I give. [I’m] not coming or I’m coming.’ ”

Gibbs, who is approaching his 65th birthday, also reflected on his difficult return to the Redskins.

“First years are real hard for anybody,” Gibbs said. “You’ve got to get to know your people. You’re trying to get the team in what you think is the right mental state. There are going to be some people who don’t fit into the things that you believe in. The past doesn’t get you anything. You’re trying to do something all over again. You’ve got to fight your way through it.

“I’ve found that most things in life, you can’t sit on the outside. I had an uncle who was almost diabetically blind, but the guy wasn’t afraid of anything. He’d dive into anything and fight his way through it. That’s a little bit the way life is. You’re not going to learn sitting on the outside.”

As for his own health, which forced him out of the game in 1993, Gibbs said he feels great and that his diabetes wasn’t affected by his return to the grueling life of an NFL coach.

He admitted that he “lied” when he said at his introductory press conference last year that, this time around, he wouldn’t spend nights in his Redskin Park office.

“A lot of people work real hard. They just do it in different ways,” Gibbs said. “They say [Tampa Bay coach] Jon Gruden comes in at 4 in the morning. I stay late. It was about the same as last time. I had a contract with Pat. Part of it was, ‘If I’m there, you’re coming home.’ Fortunately, she wasn’t there that much.

“I had become a golf nut. I came home one day [before his return to the Redskins] and said, ‘I think I’m starting to make some progress in that golf.’ She spun around and said, ‘You ought to. You’re spending half your life out there.’ So she said no golf. She has held me to the contract. Believe me, she makes me live up to it.”

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