Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Two days after closing the 2006 campaign with another loss, Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs called it the most frustrating season of his 15-year Hall of Fame run.

“It was the toughest five months of my professional career,” said the 66-year-old Gibbs, whose Redskins have gone 21-27 since he returned to Washington in 2004. “I was brought here to win, and certainly going 5-11 is not getting it done. It was extremely disappointing. You can certainly be criticized for not being smart enough but [not] as far as an effort and a commitment.”

While the Redskins played better down the stretch despite having been eliminated from playoff contention in the weak NFC, their run defense was still stampeded by St. Louis’ Steven Jackson and the New York Giants’ Tiki Barber in the last two games.

“The first year was a learning year,” said Gibbs, who just finished the third year of the five-year deal he signed in January 2004. “The second year, we were extremely happy. This year was a big step back. I thought we would get better. I thought the moves we made in the offseason were well thought out. [But] when you’re 5-11, you’ve got to say they didn’t turn out the way we wanted them to turn out. You look at that and say, ‘OK. What we can do [differently] this following year?’ ”

Apparently, not much. Gibbs, who was speaking to the assembled media for the first time since Saturday night’s season-ending home loss to the Giants, said he anticipates no major changes to his roster, staff or the team’s front office structure.

“You always discuss … where we are, what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” Gibbs said of his ongoing discussions with Redskins owner Dan Snyder. “I don’t think there’s anything that we don’t talk about and see if there’s any way we can do a better job of it.”

However, Gibbs — who as team president has the final say on player personnel — came close to ruling out bringing in a general manager and making any changes on a coaching staff whose defense was the NFL’s second worst and whose offense scored fewer points than 19 teams. And Gibbs long ago said top lieutenants Gregg Williams and Al Saunders will return.

“We’ve got a good group to go with,” Gibbs said of his assistants.

And Gibbs said he wants to keep his defense intact even though it set a 16-game NFL record for fewest takeaways and a Redskins mark for fewest sacks with 19. Six starters on the unit are at least 30 years old.

“There were certain things that we weren’t pleased with,” Gibbs said. “We gave up a lot of big plays in the passing game and the run. I don’t get as focused on how old a guy is as how productive he was the year before. Our goal is to keep this group together.”

Gibbs said that in hindsight he wished he had returned to the power-based offense during the bye week with the Redskins 2-5 instead of in mid-November when they were 3-7.

“I just hadn’t reached that point in my thought process,” Gibbs said. “With about six weeks to go [we] stopped to re-evaluate things. We said, ‘We don’t like where we are, and this is what we want to look like.’ We changed philosophically in some areas. It was [still] Al calling the plays. We made a big step up in a lot of areas the last six weeks.”

Guard Derrick Dockery, linebacker Warrick Holdman and safety Vernon Fox are the only free agents among the starters, leaving the Redskins to focus most of their attention on restructuring contracts to make them more salary cap friendly instead of re-signing players.

Gibbs also said he expects this year’s free agent busts — moody, unproductive receiver Brandon Lloyd and long-ago demoted safety Adam Archuleta — to return despite their problematic contracts.

“Brandon can have a bright future here,” Gibbs said of Lloyd, who didn’t have a touchdown among his 23 catches.

As for Archuleta: “It was a tough year for Arch. We’ll just see where it takes us. Right now [I think he’ll be back].”

Notes — Washington has the sixth pick in April’s draft because its opponents’ records were better than those of Arizona, which also finished 5-11. …

Gibbs said backup quarterback Mark Brunell might have shoulder surgery. Defensive end Phillip Daniels is expected to have surgery on both ankles and a wrist.

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