- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The only thing that’s saving Joe Gibbs right now is Joe Gibbs — or rather, the memory of Joe Gibbs. If he hadn’t won three Super Bowls for the Redskins a generation ago, he’d be heading back to NASCAR this week with his tail between his legs and a $10 million severance check in his pocket.

There’s been little in his three-year return to coaching to suggest he’s going to Recapture the Magic of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Yes, the team went 10-6 last season and won a playoff game, but it was 6-10 in ‘04 and 5-11 this year … for a not-so-grand total of 21-27. Norv Turner was terminated for less. So was Marty Schottenheimer.

But Gibbs coaches on. He coaches on because Dan Snyder, who used to fire everybody, no longer fires anybody. In fact, some people are beginning to question whether Snyder is still alive. The situation cries out for some comment by the owner, but Dan the Man remains unseen and unheard. Maybe he’ll start a blog on Redskins.com and tell us what he thinks — if not about the franchise’s travails, then about the restaurant he went to last night or Jennifer Hudson’s performance in “Dreamgirls.”

Does anyone else find it unusual that the Redskins are six games under .500 the past three seasons — and yet not a single head has rolled? The mistakes made by management, from Gibbs on down, are well chronicled, but no one ever pays for them. There are disastrous free agent signings, horrible draft picks, dubious strategic decisions … but the band plays on. If the front office isn’t going to be held accountable, why should the players accept any responsibility for what’s gone wrong?

But that’s just the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg. The Redskins’ biggest issue by far is perception — not the outside world’s perception of them but Gibbs’ perception of them. Coach Joe firmly believes he has “some of the key ingredients here to kinda build on.” Few neutral observers would agree. He also believes the Redskins aren’t that far from turning it back around — and mentioned yesterday, as evidence, that they “lost five games [this year] by three points.”

Uh, actually, the Redskins lost four games by three points (of fewer). A minor misstatement, to be sure, but also an indication of Gibbs’ slightly skewed view of things.

And here’s another: “In the last six weeks, we made a big step up in a lot of areas. We [played] consistently against real good football teams.”

Which teams would those be? The Falcons finished 7-9 — and axed their coach. The Panthers, Rams and Giants all wound up 8-8. (The 10-6 Eagles and Saints were their other two opponents.) What’s “real good” about 7-9 or 8-8? (Heck, I’m not sure there’s anything “real good” about 10-6.)

Indeed, 10 of the Redskins’ games were against clubs that were .500 or worse. Only one was against a team that won more than 10 times (the 12-4 Colts). The Redskins, in other words, weren’t just 5-11, they were 5-11 playing a succession of mediocrities. (And despite strip-mining this year’s and next year’s drafts in an effort to Win Now.)

It makes you wonder, it really does. Coaches are supposed to see the glass half-full, of course, but they’re also supposed to notice any spilt milk around it. Gibbs, however, appears reluctant — or perhaps unable — to acknowledge the depth of the franchise’s problems. His statement after the season-ending loss to the Giants was particularly puzzling: “I think [the players] wanted to make a statement at the end of the year, and I think they did in the last six weeks.”

In the Redskins’ last two games, I’ll just point out, they gave up 579 yards to the Rams (and blew a two-touchdown lead) and 234 yards rushing — a Giants record — to Tiki Barber. How is that “making a statement”?

The Redskins will never get anywhere as long as Gibbs makes decisions from an obstructed-view seat, as long as he looks at them through burgundy-colored glasses. Saddest of all Saturday night was listening to him praise his team for continuing to play hard even though its playoff chances were shot. That’s right, folks, Coach Joe congratulates his players these days for not quitting. I don’t even know what to say to that.

And get this: According to Gibbs, “our goal is to try to keep this group together.” Why on earth would the Redskins do that? “This group,” after all, has posted the two worst records of Coach Joe’s Hall of Fame career.

The answer is painfully obvious: because he’s stuck with most of them, salary cap-wise. He’s made his coffin, and now he must sleep in it.

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