- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Joe Gibbs once quipped that his wife warned him not to leave retirement to coach the Redskins again. You’ll ruin your good name, she told him. More than three years later, that laugh line looks like no joke.

Gibbs compiled a 140-65 record with three Super Bowl championships in his first tenure with the Redskins, good enough to earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame after he retired 14 years ago.

The second time around, the results aren’t nearly so good: Gibbs 2.0 has produced only a 22-28 record and a lot of disappointment.

Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver returned to the Baltimore Orioles dugout and failed. Gene Shue returned to the Washington Bullets with mediocre results. Like Weaver and Shue, Gibbs has learned how hard it is to go home again, to succeed when past glory sets expectations so high.

Gibbs never finished in last place in the NFC East during his first run with the Redskins, but he’s done it twice in the three years of his comeback. As Gibbs starts the fourth season of a five-year deal, the future does not look bright: His entire offensive line, two defensive line starters, top linebacker and ace cornerback are at least 30 — so, nearly half the regulars are on the wrong side of the NFL’s milestone birthday in a game increasingly centered around speed.

The Redskins’ three division rivals — the Cowboys, Giants and Eagles — made the playoffs last season, and the Eagles and Giants have done so twice since Gibbs returned. Gibbs posted a 41-33 record against those fierce rivals during his first tenure but is only 7-11 against them in this stint.

Assume this recent track record holds and the Redskins finish 7-9 this season. Gibbs will be a 67-year-old coach with one season left on his contract. The coach whose mission was to restore the Redskins to glory will be a lame duck.

What would the famously impatient Dan Snyder do? The Redskins’ owner has been amazingly hands-off with Gibbs but has yet to let a coach reach this point of a contract. Doesn’t Snyder appeal to Gibbs’ good nature and devotion to doing what’s right for the Redskins and ask permission to pursue a big-name replacement and still pay Gibbs for the final year of his deal?

Knowing how to bow out gracefully would only enhance Gibbs’ “good name.” Bill Cowher, a perpetual playoff qualifier with the Steelers who won the Super Bowl just two years ago, is waiting to be courted out of retirement. It would kill Snyder if Cowher came back to the Panthers, Browns or, worse, the Giants while he let Gibbs play out the string in Washington.

And if Cowher decided not to return, Pete Carroll can’t top himself at Southern Cal and would love a chance to prove he’s much better than the so-so NFL coach he was with the Patriots and the Jets in the 1990s.

If Snyder could handle these negotiations as quietly as he orchestrated Gibbs’ return, the Pro Football Hall of Famer could still come back for his final season if the owner failed to lure either fiftysomething coach to Washington.

Of course, Snyder’s millions have done the impossible before, so circle Dec. 30 on your calendar.

What would be more fitting for Gibbs than to coach his final game with the Redskins against the hated Cowboys and go out with an upset victory that keeps Dallas out of the playoffs as he heads into retirement for good?

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