- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Back on March 6, 1993, when Bill and Hillary Clinton were still learning their way around the White House, this headline appeared in The Washington Times:

Coaching forever is no way to live.

Joe Gibbs had just resigned as coach of the Washington Redskins, thereby sending shock waves throughout the nation’s capital. He denied being a victim of “burnout,” the term used some years earlier by Dick Vermeil to describe the moment when coaches decide that enough’s enough, but clearly he was.

Gibbs was 52 then and looked 15 years older. Now he is 15 years older, and I’ll let you guess how much older than that he looks. At any rate, none of us should have been surprised by yesterday’s re-resignation.

From 1981 to 1992, Gibbs’ teams went 124-60 and won three Super Bowls. This time around, from 2004 through last weekend, they were 30-34. During Gibbs I, he was a genius. During Gibbs II, he was strictly ordinary — or worse.

Did Joe get dumb from inhaling too many NASCAR exhaust fumes in the interim? Of course not.

Did he lose some of his inner drive and desire to win? Of course not.

Did he realize, at some level, that football and football games are not the be-all and end-all of human existence? Probably.

To paraphrase the Coen brothers and their current flick, the NFL is no league for old men. Don Shula, the winningest pro coach ever, discovered this a decade or so ago, albeit it unwillingly. Bill Parcells, the Dolphins’ new front-office tyrant, might bite his tongue off before agreeing to return to the sideline. And now Gibbs, as intense as any man who ever muttered into a headset, has realized that what happened once upon a time won’t necessarily happen again.

Sure, he took the Redskins to the playoffs twice in four seasons — fine work for any other coach of a downtrodden franchise but strictly minor stuff for a man who had been to four Super Bowls.

It’s no surprise either that the 2007 season proved Gibbs’ valedictory. The incredible run of injuries to key players, the widespread trauma and grief surrounding Sean Taylor’s murder, the criticism that rained down on Joe’s head after he inexplicably called those two consecutive timeouts — all these things undoubtedly affected his desire to continue in a thankless job.

Sooner or later, every coach learns that his sport is not really the most important thing on the face of the earth — it just seems that way. Yes, the Gibbses and Belichicks and Sabans make incredible money, but they pay an incredible price, too — the necessity of shutting out everything else in season, including family, to labor away at what is simply a game.

If the other guy works 18 hours a day, the rationale goes, you can beat him by working 20. Never mind such customarily routine matters as sleep and food. After all, the next game is the thing — the only thing.

In these parts, of course, the Redskins reign supreme on the sports front, regardless of record. We like to associate ourselves with winners or even entertaining losers, and sometimes we, too, forget that the games people play are merely diversions. Coaches and players cannot afford to think that way, but we can — or should.

A personal note: I’ve followed the Redskins for more than half a century. When I was a kid and my family paid $19.80 each for season tickets at old Griffith Stadium in the early 1950s, my weekend would be ruined if they lost (which they usually did). At some point, though, it behooves all of us — even coaches — to understand that there are more important things than the games people play.

This principle is stated well in I Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Joe Gibbs is a man of faith, and perhaps, at the end, he realized this. I’m glad he’s leaving. Surely there are better, more rewarding ways for him to spend his time.

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